Expert care, positive attitude guide brain-tumor patient
Three things helped Michael Jozwiak through a brain-tumor diagnosis: faith, technology and finding the right doctor. Faith kicked in first, when his primary-care physician gave him the jolting news instead of a prescription for a heavy-duty pain reliever, which is what the 47-year-old Colorado Springs resident had expected.
“I didn’t really know how to process it,” says Jozwiak, who had gone to his doctor for “intense temporal headaches” that had bothered him for about three weeks early last summer. “It was a surprise.” But faith kept fear from settling in and helped him focus, he says. “I knew everything was going to be just fine. I just started looking for the next steps to get the problem solved.”
Those next steps led Jozwiak down the road to Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, where he found doctors who made him feel confident and an advanced neurological department that made the process so smooth, he says he’s still surprised. “I’m just really amazed that, for the type of surgery I had, I was in the hospital for only four days.”
About 70,000 primary (originating in the brain) brain tumors are diagnosed in the United States each year, with the majority of those (about 45,000) non-malignant, or benign, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. Although benign tumors, which Jozwiak’s turned out to be, can be life-threatening depending on their location, many people do survive their diagnoses, a number that is growing as technology improves.
Finding Dr. Right
Jozwiak knew his first priority was finding the right surgeon. He began with the Colorado Springs neurologist his doctor recommended, but “I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling” about him, he says. On the advice of a co-worker at the Department of Defense, he went to Denver. After meeting with three more neurosurgeons, he chose the Sky Ridge team.
There, neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Rauzzino took Jozwiak’s case to a tumor board, where the consensus was that Dr. Brent Kimball would be the best neurosurgeon for the job. At Sky Ridge, reviewing each case with a variety of experts who develop the best treatment plan is routine, Kimball says. “We take the multi-disciplinary approach, with oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, interventional radiologists, to make decisions not in a box separate from one another but together in a concerted fashion. That makes the biggest difference in cancer care.”
Patient desire also ranks high in the decision-making process, Kimball says. Although a “wait-and-see” approach is often considered with brain tumors, so that doctors can monitor its growth characteristics before making what are often invasive treatment plans, that’s not the tactic Jozwiak wanted. “A lot of people don’t want this unknown mass in their head,” Kimball says. “And at 47, he’s lived only half of his life. That alone puts him in a category as a good surgical patient.
Jozwiak was also attracted by the doctors’ confidence. “Both Drs. Kimball and Rauzzino were very reassuring that they could remove the tumor safely and that I’d be restored to health in a very short amount of time,” he says. But most importantly: “They said the same Mike that goes into the hospital will be the same Mike that comes out,” Jozwiak says, hitting on what Kimball says generates the most fear in brain-tumor patients.
“Something unique about the brain is that it’s considered synonymous with your personhood, your personality, your memories,” Kimball says. “Removing a tumor from another part of your body is not going to cause personality changes, or memory loss, or weakness.” But thanks in part to technological advancements, disabling side effects from brain surgery are easier to avoid in the operating room today.
“Treatments are more targeted,” Kimball says. “Because of the imaging techniques that we have, we can direct our surgical path to the safest route possible to reduce the risk of injury to normal tissues.” Sky Ridge surgeons use stereotactic navigation, for example, a technology that allows them to sync high-resolution, 3-D, MRI scans with their instruments, so that they can tell exactly where they are at any point during surgery, Kimball says. The technology also leads to more precise tumor removal and smaller access points, he says.
Jozwiak, who is back to life with his wife, three sons and grandson after having his tumor (a relatively rare ganglioglioma) removed this past fall, appreciates the technology and his choice of medical teams, advising other patients to always get multiple opinions. But most of all, he says: “Have a positive attitude. Just have faith.”
Did you know?
- The World Health Organization classifies brain tumors as WHO grade I, II, III or IV. The higher the grade, the more malignant the tumor.
- There are two types of brain tumors. Primary tumors begin in, and generally stay in, the brain. Secondary tumors spread from other cancers in the body (most often the lung or breast) and are more common than primary tumors.
People with brain tumors often suffer from:
- Sensory or motor loss
- Hearing or vision loss
American Brain Tumor Association
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