About a week after I was admitted to the hospital in St. Louis, my medical team recommended a biopsy of my tumor. So they put me face down on a surgical table for a few hours, screwed my head into a halo to stabilize things for the surgery, and took a tiny bit of the tumor for pathology.
You might wonder why they’d go through all that trouble just to not remove the damn thing. I would. I did.
The sucky thing is that the tumor was (and still is) in a precarious spot. Trying to cut it out is risky not only because of where it is, but because it’s got these tendril-like doohickies with no clear delineation where the tumor stops and the brain begins.
So they just took a little bit of the tumor, and some pathologists gave it a good look see. I’ll never, ever forget the neurosurgeon describing the procedure to me the night before as he loomed over my hospital bed.
“Basically, we’re going to cut a flap open on the back of your head, pull your neck muscles out, set them aside, take a little bit of the tumor, put stuff back where it was, and sew you back up.
“Just sign here,” he said, handing me a clipboard and a pen.
They determined that it was indeed a Grade 2 Astrocytoma. And then they sent the tissue off for Foundation One genetic testing and determined that my tumor was an IDH-1 mutant. With that info, they knew I was a good candidate for chemotherapy.
What follows is a few of the juicy bits from that brain tumor biopsy:
FINAL WITH ADDENDUM
Brain, “Brain stem tumor,” Open biopsy (Includes AFR1 and AFR1-TP1)
– Diffuse Astrocytoma, IDH-1 mutant, WHO Grade II (see comment)
An intraoperative consultation was obtained and is interpreted as: Called to pick up “brain stem tumor frozen,” consisting of tan-white tissue fragments measuring 1.0 x 0.5 x 0.3 cm in aggregate. Sampled for frozen sections (AFR1) and for cytological smear preparation (AFR-TP1).
– Diffuse glioma
Hematoxylin and eosin stained sections of the brain stem tumor biopsy material show several small fragments of brain parenchyma involved by a diffuse glioma, showing also a few entrapped neurons and some reactive astrocytosis. Cellularity is moderate.
The histomorphological, immunohistochemical, and cytogenetic findings from examination of the biopsy material support the diagnosis: Diffuse Astrocytoma, IDH1-mutant, WHO Grade II.
A: Brain stem tumor
Received is a formalin-filled container labeled “Suess, Emily A.” and “brain stem tumor frozen.” It holds a cassette (AFR1) that contains two pieces of tan-pink tissue, wrapped in tissue paper. Also within the container are 4 fragments of tan-white/tan-pink tissue measuring approximately 0.8 x 0.5 x 0.3 cm in aggregate. Wrapped. Labeled A2 and A3. Jar 0.