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Dan: Nicole is my oldest, she’ll be 10 in August. And then the baby, Joshua is going to be three. And then Daniel is going to be seven. About four and a half years ago a migraine type headache started to get stronger and more frequent and the pain medication didn’t help, so that’s why they initially decided, “Let’s get an MRI.” That’s one of the images I’ll never forget was walking into Dr. Ostrup's office and he put my films up on the viewer there. And you didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to see this huge tumor in my head, large enough that it literally moved my brain.
Tamara, Dan's Wife: I remember when we found out we just sat in a room, and we were quiet. How did this happen?
Dan: The doctor’s like, “It’s got to be taken out.” I think his words were, “This thing, it’s not going to kill you today or tomorrow, or maybe even next month, but it will kill you.”
Dr. Richard Ostrup, Neurosurgeon: This thing was invading a portion of his skull, and I drilled this out with a neuronavigational system, a tool that we use to try to minimize the incision.
Dan: It was an 11-hour surgery to take out the tumor, and I developed a pocket of spinal fluid between my skull and my scalp.
Dr. Ari Laliotis, Internal Medicine: This required the placement of a shunt, a tube that goes from the ventricle of the brain all the way down into the abdominal cavity, to help drain that fluid away.
Dan: You can kind of see it in my neck here. It looks like a big vein, but that’s the shunt. That’s one of the rocks I like to climb on. There’s several roots, and there’s a good one over here called "Who-done-it."
Dr. Laliotis: Dan was doing well until the fall of 2005 when he started having some difficulties with balance.
Dan: My work and my passion in life are all about balance. Balancing on ladders, balancing on rocks. When I would sneeze or I would burp, I would literally stumble around like a drunk. When they went in to find the cause of my dizziness, that’s when they found the second tumor.
Tamara: No, this is, you know, when is it going to let up? And there’s our moments that we’re sad together, but we’re together.
Dan: Episode after episode it just wears you down. I can’t seem to put it behind me.
Dr. Laliotis: Hemangipericytoma is a rare form of tumor. It straddles the line between malignant and benign tumor.
Dr. Ostrup: We’ve got either recurrent tumor or microscopic tumor that has continued to road through that skull base.
Dan: They’ve opened my head up four times previous to this. I’ve got titanium plates in my head, I’ve got screws, plates, I’ve got the VP shunt. Dr. Ostrup doesn’t want to go back there again. The tumor had actually grown through the bone into my ear; it was growing around my inner ear.
Dr. Ostrup: We do have these new modalities that are delivering high doses of radiation to a targeted area.
Dr. Geoffrey Weinstein, Radiation Oncologist: This is the only brain lab Novalis system that is in use in San Diego. If you have a tumor that’s surrounded by critical structures, you can use this machine in order to focus the beam very accurately. So, it’s particularly well suited for tumors in the brain.
Tamara: We’ve been talking about what’s happening to Dad. So, bringing them in here to see this, you know, this answers all their questions.
Makayla Hill, RTT, Radiation Therapy: Want to see if it fits on your face?
Nicole, Dan's Daughter: Yeah.
Makayla: Uh-oh. Your nose isn't big enough.
Makayla: We work really hard to have a one-on-one relationship with our patients, and make them feel comfortable when they come.
Dan: I think just not knowing what to expect, especially for children is the scary thing. You know, you have to take care of your family no matter what you’re going through. If I just sat back and ate Cheetos and sat on the couch and went "boo-hoo," I’d feel terrible. I don’t think that that would make my recovery any better. The patient has a big responsibility to aide the recovery.
Makayla: I think people appreciate that you extend that kind of love and sincere feeling that they get when they come.
Tamara: There’s always fear, you know, what if the treatment doesn’t work, what if he’s driving to work and doesn’t feel good. I have a lot of fear, but then I have a lot of hope, too.
Dr. Weinstein: The type of tumor Daniel has, I think that it’s unlikely that it will go away. Success for this type of a tumor is preventing it from growing further.
[One year later Dan returns for an MRI.]
Dan: I was just kind of calm and quiet and like, “What’s the news?”
Dr. Weinstein: This is what it was before we got started. And this is what we had on the 16th. Nothing there.
Dan: Oh, wow.
Dr. Weinstein: I think that there’s just some changes from the surgery and the radiation and some scar tissue. I don’t think there is anything else left.
Dan: That’s good news.
Dr. Weinstein: Yeah.
Tamara: That’s fabulous news, wasn’t it?
Dan: I’m pretty stoked.
Dan: When you’re the first person to climb that line when no one has climbed before, you get to name the route. We called it “It Ain’t Brain Surgery.” I want to share this with my kids, so that as they grow older, it’s something we can all do together. Inside of my climbing helmet, there’s a verse from a song that I like.
Nicole: Every day’s a new day. Thankful for every breath I take. Won’t take it for granted.