‘You have 4 weeks to live’

Patricia Lundquist of Champlin tells her story after brain tumor diagnosis, surgery

by megan hopps

SUN PRESS Newspapers


“You have four weeks left to live.” Not a statement anyone ever hopes to hear from their doctor.

This was the news Champlin resident Patricia Lundquist received just this month from her neurologist after learning that a brain tumor that was surgically removed grew back and caused swelling of the brain.

“It was in November of last year that I experienced my first seizure,” Patty said. “I went in to see my primary care physician to figure out what was going on and ended up having another seizure at my appointment.”

Doctors began running tests to see what was causing the seizures. Patty underwent a spinal tap test to rule out any infections and the tests returned clean. A follow up appointment was scheduled with a neurologist and what they discovered was much more concerning. Doctors found an area of Patty’s brain that had doubled in size and suggested that a biopsy be taken of the mass. After the biopsy, doctors informed Patty that she had a malignant brain tumor and was not an acceptable candidate for surgery.

“I was shocked,” she said. “But my husband and I wanted to get a second opinion.”

Patty’s husband Terry decided to call the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Chicago. In late February they spoke with an oncologist who was willing to remove the tumor.

“You can imagine my surprise when I heard that,” she said. “Especially since doctors here considered me to be inoperable.”

The next couple of weeks consisted of gathering information about the procedure and finding answers to the many questions the couple had about the doctors, the surgery and the side effects.

“We scheduled my surgery for March 13,” she said. “I was nervous, but thankful that doctors were willing to operate.”

Juan Alzate, MD, Neurosurgeon at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) was able to use new technology to surgically remove Patty’s brain tumor in a minimally invasive way.

“I was one of the first five surgeons in the country that was trained using the six pillar method to remove brain tumors,” he said. “It’s not a cure, but it can buy you time and a better quality of life.”

Dr. Alzate says that Patty remained hopeful throughout the time they worked together and said that she clearly knows how serious the procedure was and was ready to fight the cancer. When the surgery was complete Patty received some good news. Her nurses that told her that surgeon was able to remove 80 to 90 percent of the tumor.

“They considered the surgery very successful,” Patty said.

The couple was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Patty had radiation and chemotherapy treatments for a month following the procedure and was able to finish the treatment by the end of May. However, by the end of the 30 day treatment the effects of chemo radiation began.

“I was concerned, so we traveled back to Chicago for another MRI and blood work,” Patty said.

At her follow up appointment doctors told her that everything looked great and that the surgery was successful.

“‘Yay God!’ I thought. “Thank you.”

After radiation treatment, Patty began to experience weakness and balance issues. She had fallen several times and once, she wasn’t able to get up on her own. Her family later banned her from using the stairs on her own.

Patty began to experience headaches, pain and pressure in her ears and eye strain. She visited her primary care doctor and had her eyes checked. The eye doctor told her that everything looked good and thought perhaps she just needed new glasses. She visited the ear doctor as well and they did a hearing test and inner and outer ear testing and there was no fluid or infection. She was still experiencing weakness, headaches and balance issues.

Labor Day weekend came and Patty was feeling well enough to see her family and friends.

“It was such a beautiful day spent with family and friends,” she said. “I love them so much.”

Patty’s husband was especially worried that weekend because she wasn’t walking well and her balance issues seemed to worsen. They decided to wait until after church to see if things improved.

The next day, Terry called CTCA to consult a doctor and see what the next steps were in the process. They told the couple to go to the ER as they have all the necessary diagnostic equipment. At the hospital Patty underwent an MRI and received news of a second brain tumor that had developed and the first, that had been nearly removed, had grown.

Patty needed to be transported quickly to North Memorial hospital to see a neurologist.

“Just before I left to be transported the EMT said that if we had gotten there any later we would not have called the medical transport, but the coroner,” she said. “I burst into tears at the thought. It was clear how apparent God’s grace and mercy is. I know he has a plan for me.”

When Patty arrived at North Memorial the doctors found extreme swelling of the brain and gave her a steroid injection to tame it.

“So here we are now, with a diagnosis like this,”she said. Patty was given by her neurologist an estimated life expectancy of two weeks to four months left to live. But that hasn’t slowed her down. Patty and her husband began planning a vacation with their kids and their grandchildren. They rented an RV and took their grandkids to see Disneyworld and the ocean.

“My desire on this trip? To see Florida through their eyes; the joy, the excitement, something that will be a legacy when I’m not there to share it with them,” she said. “It’s a bittersweet thing. But it’s a win-win situation for me. As Phillipians 1:21 says: To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Contact Megan Hopps at [email protected]