Between 2005 and present day, my mom has had three brain operations. The first surgery took place in New York City, when my mom was in her late thirties. She was diagnosed with a meningioma, an umbrella term for benign tumors that arise within the brain and its surrounding structures. They typically range in size from a millimeter to a few centimeters, they tend to arise in individuals between the ages of 30 and 70 years, and they affect women more often than men. Their behavior is largely diverse and everchanging, and has a wide range of symptoms, side effects, and patient outcomes associated with it -- therefore, it is a widely researched topic in the medical community, but due to its extreme unpredictability and unusual qualities, there is still much to learn and understand about meningiomas.
The second surgery came three short years later, in 2008. Her tumor was identified on a routine MRI scan at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and it was decided that she would have to go back to NYC for treatment. This time, though, there was more than one tumor: one had reappeared in the location of the original tumor, and another smaller tumor had sprouted in an entirely different location. The neurosurgeons removed the smaller tumor, and partially removed the second tumor -- due to the sensitivity of the location and the accumulation of scar tissue in that area from her first surgery, it was both dangerous and nearly impossible to remove all of the tissue. After a short window of time for recovery, she was given a dose of radiation to eradicate the remaining meningioma tissue. This appeared to have worked well, and she was able to go home completely tumor-free and with only a couple minor side effects from the surgery.
Fast forward to December 2016. Eight years had passed since any changes had occurred, but yet after another routine MRI, two more new tumors popped up, quickly and entirely unexpectedly. This time, they had chosen new real estate, centrally located near her most precious and vital brain structures, encroaching on her brain stem, life-sustaining cranial nerves, and the fragile membrane that separates her midbrain from her brain stem. This was an urgent matter -- if this tumor continued to grow at its current rate, she wouldn't have much time left. This time, she received treatment at Geisinger Health in Wilkes-Barre, PA, closer to her home in Troy, PA, and boasted some of the best doctors in the world, especially for her condition. Her estimated 5-hour procedure turned into a 14-hour, grueling, nightmarish operation. She was nearly declared legally deceased twice on the operating table; her tumors grew not only next to, but around the structures that control her heart rate and breathing, and as such, all of the trauma and damage from the surgery would lower her pulse and breathing rate to critically low levels, forcing the surgeons to walk away and wait for her vitals to slowly creep back up to acceptable levels. When she was in recovery and her surgeon came out to update us on her status, he informed us that this was unlike anything he had ever seen in his 30+ years of working in neurosurgery -- definitely an unsettling thought, and not what we wanted to hear. Just like the last time, it was much too dangerous to remove all of the tumor tissue completely, so a small remnant was left behind to be monitored closely and dealt with at another time. Nonetheless, my mother prevailed, and came out of the surgery with a few battle scars, but with a bright, triumphant smile. She fought through her rehabilitation, putting all of her energy into healing and making small improvements every single day. After only 16 days, she was miraculously discharged on Christmas Eve and was home in time for the holidays -- the absolute best Christmas present any of our family could receive.
This brings us to present day, and the reason for this GoFundMe page. Myself and my family members were a little hesitant to create this, but my mom was especially reluctant -- she hates to ask for anything from anyone, and anyone that knows her will tell you that my mom is much, much quicker to lend a helping hand than to accept one, being the extremely generous, stubborn, and utterly incredible and thoughtful woman that she is. But, we all have our low points and there always comes a time when we need to reach out and ask for assistance, and right now, my mom needs you.
A few short weeks ago, her MRIs revealed two new tumors: a small one near her temporal lobe, and as expected, the remnant of tissue left behind from the December operation grew back, but is growing at an alarmingly fast rate, increasing in size six-fold in just a few measly months. It grew not only in the same place as before, but grew even closer medially toward the brainstem, and began creeping up over the membrane that separates her midbrain and upper brain -- yes, you understood that correctly: one tumor, affecting all three regions of her brain. She is now facing perhaps the most dangerous of any brain tumor operation she's had to date, and due to the slow-healing nature of the brain and the close proximity to her most recent surgery, it is a high-risk operation, albeit necessary for survival.
After some deliberation amongst our family and closest friends, and after reviewing our options from a couple different expert opinions, it has been decided that my mom will be travelling to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks to have her fourth operation, followed by an intensive six-week round of radiation to try and prevent any new growths. It's a new and unfamiliar city, but with world-class facilities and surgical teams. Our family has been given almost no time to prepare for this -- in fact, we had only just finished paying off bills from her surgery in December this past month -- and this surgery needs to happen as soon as possible. The financial burden of this situation, aside from the emotional toll it has taken on my mom and on our family, is a lot to handle for us, and we are scrambling to find every accomodation that we can in an extremely short amount of time.
Our goal is to reach $3500, to cover the cost of living for my mom while she is living in Philadelphia for six weeks undergoing her radiation regimen. Since she lives over three and a half hours from Philadelphia, it isn't feasible for her to make the commute each day for six weeks, so we are looking into apartments that are within walking distance to the TJU Cancer Center, so that my mom can avoid the stresses of driving a car in the city, and to save money on parking and gas during her stay. Aside from the cost of living for six weeks in the city, the money will help to cover costs of transportation for my family while she is away -- I myself live about 5 hours from the city, and some of our family even further than that, and we will all be making numerous trips to be with her during this difficult time. More than anything, I wish my family had more time to make arrangements and to save up funds so that we don't have to rely on the benevolence of our friends and family and complete strangers, but my mom's condition adheres to a much different schedule, and unfortunately, we have been given no other real choice in the matter.
Any donation will help -- one of my mom's favorite quotes is "Little by little, one goes far," and in this situation, that phrase couldn't ring more true. This is so difficult because we are so limited on time and resources, and it's a terrifying and stressful feat, but we as a family have so much faith that we will find a solution and that my mom will conquer this hurdle with grace, surprising us with her strength and determination as she always has. My family and I are so incredibly grateful for any support we can get, and are forever indebted to the people that help us acieve this goal and make this happen.
With all of this being said, we know that monetary donations are not feasible for everyone, but there other ways you can help! We are still on the hunt for apartments currently, and being so unfamiliar with the area and not really having any experience planning travel and accomodations like this, any assistance with finding an affordable solution within close proximity to the hospital would be immensely appreciated. We are trying to find listings through Airbnb, VRBO, and other travel sites, and additionally, we are working with TJUH liaisons to find any available housing accomodations. Additionally, we could use any recommendations or words of encouragement from anyone that has been through similar situations like my mom's -- I am hoping that through promoting this page, we will be able to find solace in knowing that others have conquered feats similar to hers, and it will give my mom the much needed confidence she needs to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. This is a huge test of my mom's faith, and now more than ever, she needs all of the love, support, and positivity she can get.
On behalf of my mother, my family, and myself, I thank you all kindly and from the bottom of our hearts for all of your continued understanding, generosity, encouragement, and for any support you provide for us.
"Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:12
- Pat Shields
- Aaron Hottenstein
- Loraine Snell
- Kaleb Nolan
- Janet Marble
Organizer and beneficiary
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