Katie had been complaining of headaches in retrospect for about a year. I chalked it up to a taste for grape flavored children’s Tylenol and a flair for the dramatic. In October of last year, we were on a short vacation when she told us at dinner that her food tasted funny, and again she had a headache. She woke us up at midnight, throwing up in bed. The vomiting continued for the next day or so, and then she was fine. Clearly it had been a stomach virus we told ourselves. Fast forward one month to November 15th. I’ll never forget it, as this is my birthday. I was rushing her to school, her sister to day care, and me to work for an important board meeting. Katie said she had a horrible headache, “Like 1,000 jackhammers, Mom.” I convinced her that she was fine and didn’t want to miss her field trip to the statehouse as I shoved her out the door. I got a call on my cell phone about an hour later, that she had thrown up on her way to board the bus for the field trip.
After picking her up from school and arranging for my parents to come and stay with her, my mom said that she thought something a little more serious might be going on. I took her advice and made an appointment with her pediatrician the next day. We talked about her history and the recent headaches and vomiting. The pediatrician had Katie perform some simple balancing tests and looked into her pupils. Katie kept falling over when walking heel to toe. She thought it was pretty funny and both the Dr. and I thought she might just be playing things up a little bit. The Dr. said that she couldn’t quite see as clearly to the backs of her eyes as she would have liked and that coupled with the headaches and potential balance issues led her order a CT scan. She said it was really just a precaution and that we could talk again if the headaches persisted.
That Friday morning we found ourselves at Children’s Hospital, ready for a quick CT scan. I told Katie they wouldn’t have to poke her and that she probably wouldn’t even be late for school. That quickly turned out not to be true, as they called us back quickly after the first scan and said that needed to do a dye contrast to see things more clearly. Katie tolerated the needle pretty well, and at this point, we weren’t alarmed. Then we sat. And sat. I started to get a queasy feeling as they called us back and said that our pediatrician was on the phone. It was a tumor she told us. And it was large. And it was at the back of the brain. And the neurosurgeon was on his way. The next hour was a blur of teary phone calls to relatives and a meeting with the neurosurgeon and his team. It was a 4cm tumor surrounded by a cyst that was 11 cm in all. It had to be taken out. Today. She had hydrocephalus that would eventually cause a seizure.
The surgery lasted 7 hours with the surgeon coming out to greet us at midnight. It had been a success from all that he could tell. The tumor was more attached than originally thought, but he was pretty sure that he had gotten it all. 12 days in the PICU and one surgery to place a VP shunt later, we were home. It had been a JPA. Not cancer. She amazed us with her recovery. She did some outpatient PT and was pretty much “back to normal” by the time school started back up at the first of the year.
We have since undergone follow up MRIs that have been clean. They will continue to conduct MRIs to check the resection spot, as it is difficult to tell whether it is just scar tissue or remaining tumor.