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Written by Brittney Stepanek
Stephen first started experiencing migraines about a year ago. He didn't get them frequently, but every couple months. He has a family history of migraines, and took prescription medicine when they came on to overcome them.
On Monday, August 8th, Stephen got what felt like another migraine. He took three days off work before trying to go back. His head pain got worse again through the night working third shift, so when he came home, we went straight to the ER. Migraines for him never lasted that long or felt that painful.Friday morning, the ER gave Stephen a "migraine cocktail," and sent us back on our way. After sleeping for a day, we tried to go out to lunch and play bingo in Ely. Unfortunately, Stephen's head started hurting again and we came straight home.By Saturday afternoon, his symptoms got progressively worse. In addition to his head pain, vision aura, and slight numbness and tingling in his right arm, he started getting new symptoms like nausea and confusing his words.
His sister, Holly, happened to be close to our house, and so I asked her to come over to either talk to Stephen because she gets migraines too, or to either watch the kids so I could take Stephen back to the ER. Holly was gracious enough to force him out of bed and tell him he needed to go to the hospital. He threw up before getting in the car and was in so much pain.Our Saturday trip to the ER included a CT/CAT and CTA scan in addition to more medicine. Dr. Anderson immediately told us that Stephen's "migraine" was actually a brain tumor, and after talking with the radiologist and on-call neurologist - it appears cancerous. He showed us the images and walked us through the size of the tumor and damages it has caused. We were shocked. He was so kind and compassionate; he came back four times to check on us, answer questions, and walk us through next steps that included an MRI the next day which a team would come in for on a Sunday to perform for him. The doctor explained he doesn't diagnosis brain tumors everyday, so if we had any problems with the next steps to have any staff call his cellphone, or if we needed to come back to the ER, he would be there.Stephen's Diagnosis
On Monday, August 15th, Neurosurgeons Dr. Smith and Dr. Schopick at Mercy Hospital, made time between patient procedures to urgently meet with us after reviewing Stephen's brain scans. With a 30 minute notice, Stephen, his mom Sheila and I were able to make it. The two doctors went through the MRI with us that showed actually two large masses located in his left-hemisphere frontal lobe behind his eye.
One tumor is a little bigger than the size of a golf ball, the other beneath it about 2/3's the size of the other. They said both tumors are malignant, but we cannot confirm the type and stage until a biopsy is performed after surgery. The tumors resemble what could be classified as "high-grade glioma," a highly aggressive and fast spreading cancer. Because Stephen's tumors are located closer to the surface, surgery luckily is an option and the masses will be more easily accessible - meaning, they are hopeful to get a majority of the tumors removed.
After the biopsy reveals the severity of the cancer, a team of doctors will then come up with a treatment plan for radiology and/or chemotherapy. We are also seeking second and third opinions from the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, and the Mayo Clinic.
We are currently waiting for insurance to pre-authorize the surgery, and are going through the prep like more CT scans, to hopefully get surgery done by the end of this month. The doctors wanted it done soon.Knowing Our Lives Will Never Be the Same
While we know brain cancer will always be in our life now, proceeding with surgery will give us hope to slow the progression, prolong any of our time together, and allow us to make the most of it. Stephen is strong and will fight for every month, day, and moment we will be blessed with.We've been in shock and on a rollercoaster. Things have changed so quickly. Our world feels like it instantly went upside down. We worry most about Sawyer and Sylvia. To say we are heartbroken or devastated doesn't even close to how we truly feel. While we are upset, Stephen tells me, "We don't have enough time to be sad, so let's make the most of today." Finding the light in the dark is hard, but we know we have to try.
We are thankful to have discovered the cancerous tumors when we did, and that they are operable - which gives us a chance for hope. We will try to be optimistic until we get through surgery and know what the biopsy reveals and what is to come. We will focus on what we can control and trust in God's plan.
"If you have faith as small as a mustard seed [...] all things are possible." - Matthew 17:20, a verse my Dad used battling Huntington's Disease and a reminder as he watches over us.
A friend reminded me, "You can do hard things - but not alone." We're in this together. Stephen, myself, Sawyer and Sylvia will need you. Help will be needed, and we will do our best to ask for it... we just haven't been able to figure out specifically what's needed as we work to process all of this. What is needed most right now is prayers. I will do my best to post updates here to keep everyone in the loop and share the latest.
Thank you to everyone who has poured in their love, support and kindness. Please keep it coming <3Much love,Brittney