Surviving a Brain Tumour – a hope-filled experience.

 

By Elizabeth A. Emmett




 

Natasha, Chris and Jamie King. August 25th, 2008. Natasha is a survivor of a GBM 4 Brain Tumour

This is the story of Natasha King, written by her mother Elizabeth Emmett. It is the story of her survival after diagnosis with a GBM 4 since April 2000.

 

Natasha King is an amazing woman. She is an artist, working in fabrics, precious metals and paint. Natasha is a mother of a thriving one year old son, Jamie. She is a wife to Chris, runs a household, and a growing design small business. And, she is an eight year survivor of a GBM 4.

 

April 11, 2000 rings clearly in our collective memory. On that day, Natasha was diagnosed with a brain tumour – a GBM 4. A grandmal seizure initiated the discovery of this deadly tumor seated in the left parietal area of her brain.

 

In 2002, after several years of study in Fine Arts and education, Natasha had just begun what she hoped would be an exciting career as a Fine Arts Teacher. She was enjoying her relationship with Christopher King, a young New Zealander who like her had come to Australia.

 

Biopsy surgery removed approximately 50 - 60% of the tumour. Pathology confirmed a GBM 4.  This surgery caused a temporary reduction to Natasha’s control of her lower right leg. However, extensive and persistent hydro and physiotherapy helped Natasha to regain control of her leg movements.

 

Oncologists instituted a postoperative treatment regime including Epilim to prevent seizures, Dexamethasone to reduce brain swelling and six weeks of radiotherapy, followed by several months of BCNU chemotherapy treatment.  

Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy provided a respite from the harsher treatment regimes.

As Natasha regained strength, she found painting to be a useful therapy. At first, her painting was a diversion. However, Natasha eventually completed a series of six paintings of her journey from May to October 2000. She chose to develop a guache medium in a naďve style to tell her story.

 

Each painting gave opportunity to explore and express some of her feelings about various stages of her journey. Each painting includes a scene in which one or more people provide companionship.

 

Natasha struggled with the pain and side effects of chemotherapy. However, she found inspiration in one of the stained glass windows of the St Vincent’s Hospital stair well. Here, angels are depicted bearing up those who suffer. Her father in law, David suggested to her than she imagine the angels coming to her aid.  One painting in particular features an angel taking her by the hand and assisting her up the hospital stairs to face the administration of chemotherapy.

 

Natasha found that her journey to healing and inner peace benefited from attention to the spiritual dimensions of life.  Meditation and working with various fine arts provided insight and inner peace.


In the early stages of the post-operative treatment, Tarsh and Chris, and her parents and siblings were unaware of the dire prognosis of a GBM 4 tumour. In fact it was not until a consultation with the Chemo-Oncologist that we understood the usual eventual outcome of a GBM4.  A 1% to 2% survival statistic!! As a family we decided that we chose to live life with Tarsh. We would not allow the tumour to define her, or to limit our estimation of her life by its definition. We deliberately lived forwards into hope.

 

Christopher supported Natasha during her treatments. They were engaged in May and married on the 7th Oct 2007.  Chemotherapy (BCNU) was still being administered. The marriage ceremony and reception were held in a beautiful and moving ceremony. The beginning of a married life together was celebrated with joy and great hope, in the context of the support and prayers of family and close friends.

 

During the chemotherapy treatment, Natasha enrolled in an Advanced Diploma in Precious Metallurgy (Silver Smithing). Initially it was a huge struggle for her to travel, attend classes, undertake the workshop practicums and deliver the homework.  However, Natasha persisted against the odds, applying herself diligently to all facets of the course. She was given some dispensations to take her time in the course. She was very careful to keep herself healthy with good nutrition, complementary therapy, and taking exercise such as swimming and walking Henry, her incorrigible Jack Russell dog. The Chemotherapy was eventually curtailed, due to the plummeting of blood platelet levels. Gradually her capacities improved. On graduation, Natasha she received the TAFE award for the top student in her course!

 

Gradually Natasha’s hair grew back. She and Chris settled into a unique rhythm of married life. A new style of ‘normal life’ began. Chris and Tarsh had to learn to deal with fatigue, alterations in organizational skills as well as different levels of memory function. Natasha’s goal of returning to her much loved vocation as a fine art teacher had become impossible for her. So, teaching art was exchanged for producing art in various forms - jewelry and painting at home in her own time, as well as working a few hours a week in an organic shop for a time.

 

Time passed. Hospital visits every three months and an MRI every six months interrupted life's routine, reminding them both of the tumour’s influenced on their life and life style. Monitoring is now administered every 12 months. So far, MRI has resulted in the news of no regrowth! There has been no sign of tumour regrowth, or in fact any sign of the original tumour. Considering that the neurosurgeon had advised that there was removal of just 50-60% of tumour, the scan results up to now are remarkable. 

 

She is not on any treatment regime other than a very small dose of Epilim each day. Some supplements help to maintain a healthy immune system and maintain energy levels. Fatigue, difficulty with organizational skills and mathematical operations, together with some occasional minor deficiency in memory function, are the only noticeable interrupting influences on Natasha’s daily life.

 

Natasha and Chris live simply in a rented conjoined house in Melbourne. They continue to love their beach times at a beach house they built. This house is located along the picturesque Great Ocean Road, on the coastline of Victoria. She enjoys daily exercise, such as swimming and walking Henry.

 

In early 2007, Natasha started an on-line Internet business with her sister selling natural and organic baby clothes and toys, many of which they design and manufacture themselves. www.evielala.com.au

 

AND ... in 2007, a great gift has been added to their lives and the wider family. Jamie Christopher was born to Natasha and Chris on 25th August 2007!!  There is no greater sign of hope than the birth of a healthy baby! 

 

As Natasha’s mother, I trust that all those looking for hope will find it in this account of her battle with a GBM 4. Although all is very well just now, that nagging uncertainty is always there. However, we realize, too, that not one of us really have certainty about life and its outcomes. So we live in the now and celebrate the life we have together.

 

The story of Natasha and Chris is told as an encouragement to others diagnosed with a GBM. Neither medical practitioners or we can pinpoint exactly what is might be in either treatment or life style that has secured her long survival. Once, it was even suggested that maybe Natasha didn't really have a GBM after all!  However, her neurosurgeon was definite that there was absolutely no doubt in the integrity of the pathology.

 

One doctor suggested that we do not to question her survival but rather just accept it.  

 

May hope never diminish.




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Uploaded on 5 September 2008.