Thursday, November 17, 2011

Update on Christine

For those just starting to read this blog: My friend Christine has a brain tumor that was mostly removed a few months ago. She's my age and is also pregnant with her second child which complicates things. She is waiting on baby Ella to be born before starting chemo. Christine and her husband Rob post updates periodically for their friends. Because I asked my blog readers for prayer and have had so many people asking me about her, I decided to post the updates on my blog as well.

Dear family and friends,

It looks like these MRI check-ups will become a way of life for us for the next few years.  The PA at the neruo-oncology branch at NIH told us this morning that Christine will be “married” to an MRI machine for the foreseeable future.  She will have to go in every couple months for several years for another MRI scan.  But we are thankful that modern technology enables them to monitor her so closely and detect any changes that might develop in the tumor early on.  We are so thankful for the expert medical care we have been receiving at the NIH.  It has truly been an unbelievable experience and miracle as we have seen God’s hand leading in it all.

We are on our way back home after another trip to NIH.  Thankfully the residual tumor shows no signs of progression and remains stable.  One good sign was that the cavity where the tumor used to be appeared to be slightly larger this time than on the last MRI.  They said that this was a positive sign in that it most likely indicates that the brain is healing from the surgery - the swelling has reduced, leaving more room.  A larger cavity would also indicate that there is no “mass effect” where the tumor would be growing and thus reducing the cavity opening.  They are still waiting until after the pregnancy before using gadolinium enhanced MRI’s.  This contrast agent would be able to reveal more detailed information about the type of residual tumor that is left and its current activity.  They will start that in January.

We saw a different neuro-oncologist this time who was helpful in answering many of our questions though no new, significant information was learned.  We have known for some time that Christine’s tumor is part of a sub-category of oligodendrogliomas which have a 1P/19Q co-deletion in its gene.  People who have this deletion have a better prognosis in general and it apparently makes the tumor more susceptible to the chemotherapy agent.  We are thankful for every indication of hope.

We also had a consultation with a physician from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH.  This branch does studies on CAM modalities and practices.  Although we didn’t really learn anything new or extraordinary we were interested in talking to someone there about how nutrition and lifestyle might affect the cancer.  Most of the information we have received thus far seemed to indicate that the mainline opinion is that these types of brain tumors aren’t caused by or really affected by any specific diet or lifestyle issues.  We have been told that there was nothing that can or should be doing that might change the situation.  Although the NCCAM doctor steered clear of recommending any specific herbs and/or supplements she talked a lot about whole foods and a positive lifestyle.  She said they had very little hard evidence or any studies on specific supplements or herbs and as such NIH cannot really give out recommendations on them.

One interesting thing that she shared was that several studies had been done regarding supplements derived from plants (carrots mainly).  One study took two groups of smokers where one group was fed lots of whole vegetables like broccoli and carrots and the other ate the normal American diet.  The group that ate the vegetables had 40% less lung cancer.

Then scientists decided to extract the most beneficial components from the vegetables and put it in a pill.  They again took two groups of smokers and gave one group the vegetable pill supplement and the other group nothing.  She said that this time the pill takers had a slightly higher risk for getting cancer.  The scientists gave up trying and it wasn't until 10 years later that they tried again.

They did the trial one more time with three groups: vegetable eaters, pill takers and a control group.  The same results were reported, 40% reduction in cancer for the whole vegetable eaters and slightly higher cancer rates for the pill takers than the control group.  I guess we should have asked for the sources on this study (or three studies) as it was very interesting.  It not only confirms what we already know about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet but may bring into question the validity of a certain amount of supplement taking.  She said that there were some studies on the benefits of some supplements, namely green tea, garlic, calcium and vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin B.

She was very general in her recommendations but other areas she talked about were eating more things like garlic, getting adequate rest, reducing stress, listening to your body and getting some exercise.  It sounded really similar to God’s 8 natural remedies.  It was a good reminder that there is more than just proper nutrition in the battle against disease.  Of course I understand she is a principle investigator in a study they are currently conducting on alleviating lower back pain through acupuncture which might reveal a lot about the diverse nature of CAM modalities and the difficulty they have in studying them.  But the NCCAM branch does receive something like $127.7 million for its research.

There remains “good news” on the baby front.  Our obstetrician says the baby is doing well and everything looks good.  The due date is only one month away.  Baby Ella will be here before we know it.  We plan on naming her, “Elizabeth Joan Neall” after her two grandmothers.  She will be the fourth Elizabeth (like her aunt, grandma, and great-grandma) on the Bothne side.  We will call her Ella.

Thank you for your prayers for the baby and Christine through this whole ordeal.  We can see God answering them every day.  We are so thankful for all the love and support we have received through this whole experience.  Your many prayers in our behalf give us courage and the cards and comments we continue to receive given us renewed strength.  We have seen His leading and trust His hand for the future.


Rob and Christine Neall

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