We have been living in triage mode for the past week since being scared by the huge blotch of swelling on my MRI image at NIH. Now that I have been put on medication to control the situation and am able to look forward more then a week in my life, I have to deal with the rest of the news we received at NIH.
As self-centered as I have been over the weekend for personal preservation of my sanity, JT did in fact go to NIH for exams as well. Pretty much everyone in my NF2 family has started with spine tumors around the age of 9. I think all of us close to the situation had begun to mentally prepare for JT to have a spine tumor either this trip or in the next couple of years. Spine tumors are no walk in the park, and the idea of my baby's beautiful smooth brown back being cut into, the muscle being cut through, and his tiny baby spine being touched, makes me nauseous to the very pit of my stomach.
So on Thursday when JT saw the ENT at NIH he sat looking at his brain MRIs a bit too closely. I didn't like the look on his face, I didn't like how he kept switching from series to series throughout the scans, zooming in and out and rotating. Finally, he turned to us and told us that JT has an Acoustic Neuroma*. The ENT was very conservative with his diagnosis, stating that it could be a swollen blood vessel. Paul held my hand and held me back, because we have been together long enough that he knows what havoc "possible tumors" have wreaked throughout my life.
So I held it in, and I looked at JT and took a breath. I waited until we saw Dr. A the next day for our big final appointment, and I asked his opinion. Apparently, JT's hearing nerve is already swollen. That breaks my heart. Sometimes, these tumors grow on a nerve, other times like my own, they weave themselves in, making it virtually impossible to simply remove them. All of JT's hearing and balance tests came back great, and the images are so small, there is really nothing to do right now but wait for the next MRI to begin to gauge how aggressive this tumor is and what our response will be. Just waiting, and looking at my baby everyday wondering how long I will have him and how much he will suffer.
Every NF2 patient is affected completely differently, each genetic defect, each tumor, each treatment is completely independent from all prior history. That is what the doctors tell us. Those of us with familial NF2 have seen different. I have pretty much followed the same pattern as my Mom, and any regular Fabulous Running Mommy readers know that a recurring theme of mine is to remind myself that I am not my Mother. My Mother also had a brother, my Uncle Eric. I have fond memories of my Uncle Eric sprinkled with uncomfortable images that scared me as a child. My Great-Grandmother Leticia, who I called Titi, spent a large part of her life caring for my Uncle Eric and Grandma Norma as they lay in hospital beds in her home wasting away from NF2. She was
an amazing woman and dedicated her life to their comfort. I would visit, and I remember walking in as she situated my Uncle, and seeing his long pale limbs as she adjusted his blankets. He was so skinny, and completely hunched over from the spine tumors. Tumors that started at a very young age. He had eye tumors, and although imaging was not what it is now, he had Acoustic Neuromas at a young age as well. His eyes bulged from the tumors and he wore a patch over one, and I distinctly remember him being so tiny that when he sat in a wheelchair he didn't even fill the seat. He was as small as a child in that big wheelchair, with a grown man's mind trapped inside of him. He was fiercely intelligent, and in
his last years he found God through becoming a Jehovah's Witness. It filled his heart and although I have been told he was an angry person at times, I only remember him as loving and curious. When I was in 2nd grade the teacher called my name to go to the front office. For no apparent reason I thought my parents were pulling me out to take me to Disneyland. I was a ridiculous child, seriously. I was so excited, being called out of class was really special at that time, my parents both worked and I was happy to see them. I believe it was only my Dad who was there, which was a bit disconcerting, and he was way too solemn for a trip to Disneyland. Still, I was my usual chatty self, and talked his ear
off the entire way home, throwing question after question at him. When we got home I remember sitting on our white sofa across from he and my Mom, who was very quiet, and being told that my Uncle Eric had passed away. I don't remember any reaction, my memory goes blank for years after that. I knew what death was. My Grandma Norma had passed away a couple of years prior. I just remember being told he was gone, and knowing how young he was. In later years some of the blanks were filled in. I was told that at the service I was too young to attend all of his fellow Jehovah's Witness members from his hall filled the church, it was standing room only. His battle and faith were an inspiration to them all. To this day, knowing that about him, fills me with a pride for my Uncle who lived such a short and tragic life. He was only 27 when he passed, but he didn't curse his fate, he found God and filled himself with what he could. He never had a wife or children, o
r many friends until he joined the church. His childhood photos are slightly off, his eyes not quite staring straight ahead because of the tumors. Just like JT's.
JT is not my Uncle Eric. The fact that his tumors are starting to grow while he is so young does hint at a severe case, and that terrifies me to my core to look at my JT, my angel, and think of him going through the hell that is a severe case of NF2 before he even starts high school. Will he be deaf? Will he lose the rest of his vision in his good eye from the small tumor he has in that one as well? Will he have a paralyzed face and give me soft kisses that simply press upon my cheek without a pucker as my Mom's did? Will he struggle to communicate and make friends, and question the commitment of time involved in earning a college education when compared to the life span he may not be promised? Will he simply s
nap as I did and be lost, would he be lucky enough to find his way back as I did? Will he be able to work, and support a family, and have a wife who can handle having a husband she must care for? Will he have children and will they have NF2? Will he live long enough to see those possibilities?
And so it seems although JT and I live different paths, we end up on the same one for now. We simply can't worry about the future, we have to live for today, and love each other as fiercely as possible for as long as we can. Neither of us will be held back by long gone fears that really have no true hold over our current situation. We can learn from those before us, and be brave and filled with promise today.
*An Acoustic Neuroma is the hallmark tumor of NF2. These tumors grow bilaterally on the hearing, balance and facial nerves. They are why I am deaf and have horrible balance. They are why my Grandma, Uncle and Mom, as well as many of my best friends are Deaf. They are why so many of my loved ones and friends have facial paralysis and cannot smile. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, and hopefully medication if we all keep supporting research for a cure!