What to Expect with a Brain Cancer Diagnosis
In 2013 fans of Valerie Harper from The Mary Tyler Moore Show were shocked to learn that doctors had given her just three months to live. Harper had been treated for lung cancer in 2009 and believed it was cured. However, while rehearsing for a Broadway show, she began slurring her words and her face felt numb. Doctors discovered that the lung cancer had metastasized to her meninges, which is the sac that protects the brain and spinal cord. Though she was given only three months to live, Harper lived for about six years, passing on August 30, 2019.
Her story is an inspiration to many, including older adults and their family caregivers who have been recently diagnosed with brain cancer. While Harper’s story is uniquely her own, it can be helpful to know what is possible and what to expect.
General Information About Brain Cancer
Brain cancer is actually quite rare, accounting for only about two percent of all cancer diagnoses. In addition, when someone has brain cancer, it can mean a couple different things. It could mean that, like Harper, cancer that originated in other parts of the body has spread to the brain. Or, it could be a primary tumor that starts in the brain. In addition to being either a primary or secondary cancer, there are many different kinds of brain tumors, which are classified by the kinds of cells they start in.
The symptoms of a brain tumor depend on what part of the brain is affected, how big it is, and how quickly it is growing.
Symptoms may include:
- Headaches that gradually get worse or a pattern of headaches that is different than in the past.
- Vision problems.
- Balance problems.
- Trouble with speech.
- Changes in personality of behavior.
Brain Cancer Treatment
Brain tumors are usually treated with one of the following or a combination of them:
- IV drugs.
In the case of brain cancer, surgery has two purposes. First, it serves to solidify the diagnosis as provides tissue for a pathologist to examine. It also removes as much of the cancerous tissue as possible, which can improve the chances of a good treatment outcome and improve survival rate.
Radiation and/or chemotherapy typically begins between four and six weeks after surgery to give the scalp and other tissues time to heal. Often four to six weeks after that, the patient receives another round of chemotherapy. Throughout treatment, MRI scans will be taken to provide the doctors with information about how well the treatment is working.
Elder care can be an important part of your aging relative’s care team during treatment for brain cancer. An elder care provider can spend time with the older adult when family caregivers cannot be there, making sure they have everything they need and stay safe. Elder care providers can also assist your family member to get to treatment appointments by driving them there. Afterward, they can stay with the senior to allow them to rest and help with any side effects that occur.