The Story of LaShawn
LaShawn Montoya was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor on August 23, 2004.
Day 1 - August 24, 2004
For a few months now LaShawn has experienced numbness and weakness on one side of her body. She underwent several tests and all came back negative and so they finally MRI'd her head and the next thing we know they are sending us down to Chico to see a Neurosurgeon.
So yesterday morning he told us that she has a serious tumor. It needs to be removed surgically, but they are telling us that the surgery is going to be very dangerous. He said "the morbidity rate is high for this kind of surgery." They are saying that if she doesn't die from the surgery she will be affected in some way because the thing is deep in the middle of her brain and they have to go through all kinds of important stuff to get to it. He said it was pretty rare. He hadn't seen one like it since med school. So he was sending us to an expert neurosurgeon at UC Davis. He says they will be contacting us and that the surgery will happen within a month.
This is day one and LaShawn seemed to be taking it better than the rest of us. The hard part is the kids. They alternate between numb and sad. LaShawn has summed up her feelings this way, "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be maimed or come out a different person!"
For me, its hard to figure out how to think about the next month leading up to the surgery, given what the outcomes could be. For now, I'm just trying to let it sink in. I've got that surreal feeling right now, like its not really happening and I am watching an episode of ER or something.
Amazingly, LaShawn's parents just moved to our town the week before last, so they are right here for support and to help with the kids.
We'll keep you posted. We appreciate your prayers.
Day 2 - August 25, 2004 - 6:00 AM
Thank you all so much for your outpouring of love, support, encouragement and prayer. It is overwhelming. We're humbled by all the love and concern. We even got an e-mail from a friend of a friend (someone we don't even know) from a town in Kansas who has her small group praying for us! I am sorry that I/we may not be able to write each of you back, but please know that everyone of your e-mails has been read, is being saved and has meant a lot to us. We are so thankful that my sister-in-law and brother have put together this website so we can keep you all informed of what's going on.
Here's the latest: We got some further clarification on a point. We've been puzzling over this phrase, "high rate of morbidity" that the doctor used when describing the surgery. A doctor friend of mine in Davis gave us a very clear definition: "Mortality refers to the risk of dying. Morbidity refers to the "bad outcome" (i.e. not death) risk. Morbidity in this case would mean survival, but with deficits, complications, ongoing illness, etc that could relate to the tumor itself, the operation, or both." This was pretty much what the guy was telling us, that there would be effects, but that the severity and duration etc are hard to say. He also talked about the risk of death because the tumor is so deep and he showed us all the vessels feeding it. He said it would be a "bloody" operation (and he's not British); which, he explained was not good, because they have to make sure there is no bleeding when they are done, because it would be like giving her a stroke. The problem, he said, is that with brain surgery, you have to get it right the first time - if there is internal bleeding and such, you don't open up and go back in. These surgeries can last up to 30 hours. So we were clear on the high risk of damage being done. What we are not clear on now is the fatality risk. He spoke of that risk, but didn't really put a probability on it. We thought "Morbidity" was a synonym for "mortality" and so thought the fatality risk was high. But now we don't know. That will be one of our many questions for the "expert" they are trying to get us in to see at UC Davis. The other question that occurred to us after we left was, "if the outcome is so likely to be bad, is there a rush to do this?" The doctor seemed convinced from the start that this tumor needed to go, despite the risks of surgery. He probably had good reasons for thinking that, but we didn't hear them. Pray for our wisdom on how to live the next few weeks and month. We're thinking that if God doesn't decide to take the thing out Himself, our life is now divided into B.S. and A.S. Before and after surgery. We have no clue what A.S. will look like so we aren't even going there (perhaps the expert guy will shed more light on that). But the B.S. (which is now) is also hard. Do we drop everything and go climb Mt Everest and do everything LaShawn ever wanted to do? We are planning to get away as a family and LaShawn and I as a couple, but we can't make those plans until UCD calls and sets up appointments. So right now we are waiting for the phone call and just trying to live normally, but after only one day of that, it is easier said than done - we're in that dreamy surreal state; what we can see doesn't match what we have been told. LaShawn has these relatively mild symptoms and everything around us is unchanged and yet we're told that all this awful stuff is likely to happen. It just doesn't compute.
Updated 4:30 PM
We just got word that we have an appointment with Dr. Boggan at the UC Davis Med Center in Sacramento Thursday morning at 8:30 am. We will spend the night at my parents' house in Roseville tonight. It has lifted our spirits to have an appointment. Waiting around has been rough (even though it was only for a day and half). One thing we have learned from some friends who have experience in these things is that doctors always give worst case scenarios. That's good news, because that helps us set these things in context. The Neurosurgeon in Chico on Monday certainly wasn't Mr. Optimism! This time we are bringing a 3rd person with us who can think straight while we are talking to the doctor. We will certainly let you all know as soon as possible what comes of this first appointment. Once again, Thank You so much for all the prayers and the wonderfully encouraging words on this website and through e-mail. It is blowing us away! You guys are creating quite a stir in heaven with all your prayers! We can't thank you enough! For prayer: Obviously for this meeting with the doctor in the morning. But please also pray for the kids, especially Ciara and Ryan. It is easy to see how they can get lost in the shuffle of all this as things unfold and change direction from day to day. We hate leaving them, even for a day to go down to Sac for this appt. Pray that God protect them and help them through the maze of feelings they are experiencing.
Day 3- August 26, 2004 Updated 12:00 Noon
We just got back from seeing Dr Boggan. Let me just say first that at least the Med Center knows how to treat people in our situation. We got in as soon as we showed up and the doctor was there to see us immediately. We really liked him despite the several warnings we had of his bedside manner. We brought my sister Terri with us to be an extra set of ears and to make sure we asked all the questions we planned to ask. It was great to have her there. So here is what we learned and are faced with:
The tumor is most likely a meningioma and what makes it rare is its size, its location in the middle of her brain, and the fact that she has it at such a young age. Regarding options, the first NON-option is to just wait and watch. He said that because she is having symptoms, it is not good to wait. Even if its growing slow, its growing and she will go downhill in function as time passes. So waiting is not an option. in fact, he said something should be done soon - within a month (as the other doctor said).
The next option is radiation to try to slow or stop the growth. Problems there are that it is a large tumor and so they'd have to use a lot of radiation in a wide area and that could cause a lot of side effects and damage to the brain. It could also aggravate the tumor. Or it could slow the growth, but there is a good chance that it would start growing again later and so you'd have to do radiation again or end up doing surgery anyway. There is a limit to how much radiation you can get.
The final option is surgery. The only "good" thing we can say about this tumor is that it is pretty clearly defined, so there is a certain kind of straightforwardness to it. Its a clear target. The problem is, and he was very clear on this, that it is sitting in a very bad place. To get to it involves getting past some very unforgiving vessels on the surface of the brain; and then tumor touches on several very important parts of the brain effecting everything from speech, to motor skills, to short term memory. He could take two approaches in surgery: 1 is to "debulk it" by taking a lot away and then radiate the rest. The other is to go for as much as he can. If he does that, he would not try to remove stuff that is too connected with important things.
He summed it up by saying that we are between a rock and hard spot. He used words like "bad" and "challenging" in describing it. Some more good news is that he did say that the risk of death through the operation was not that high. He also said that for her to come out with slight or even no damage is a real possibility.
We have several doctor friends (some on staff there at UC) and others with experience advising us as we consider options and even second opinions, so we feel like we already have the human resources we need to make these decisions, but we do ask for your prayers for wisdom and strength as we decide in the next few days what to do next. And of course, if God so wills, he can remove the tumor without anyone's help. Once again, we thank you for your prayers.
If you are wondering how I can even write this update, just know that in some sense it is therapeutic and that I had my sister's help. For prayer: Please continue to pray for the kids, especially Ciara and Ryan. It is easy to see how they can get lost in the shuffle of all this as things unfold and change direction from day to day. We hate leaving them, even for a day to go down to Sac for this appt. Pray that God protect them and help them through the maze of feelings they are experiencing.
Dear family and friends (some I haven't even met before!)- I feel compelled to write personally to everyone- Dave has been updating the website and telling you all what is going on with me- but I wanted to say to everyone that I am completely floored by the prayer support and love poured out to me and my family. Words completely fail to express how much I am experiencing the love of God through my Christian family all over the world. Thank you. Each time I sit down to the computer it is like Christmas morning, opening all these "gifts" expressed to us through your words. I just wanted to assure everyone that I am truly experiencing the "peace that passes understanding." I am not afraid or dreading what is ahead, and that makes no sense from a human standpoint. I feel like God has been preparing me for this for some time now. I have had a feeling for a few years now that something BIG was looming in my future and that it probably wouldn't be good. So hearing the news and seeing my tumor on film was actually not a shock. I'm glad God "let me in on what was going on" ahead of time.:) And there are too many "coincidental" happenings and circumstances that have lined up for me to fail to see God's hand in all of this. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I am at peace and eager to learn more about God and his nature through this, to love him better and trust him more, no matter what happens. I love you all. La Shawn
Day 4- August 27, 2004 Updated 5:00PM
First I want to report that yesterday was a very upbeat day. I am sure that seeing the doctor and clarifying choices and such helped, but I have to believe that it has been all of your prayers and God's answering them that is the number one reason. My main evidence for that is the kids, who I asked all of you to pray for the past few days. THEY didn't go to the consult and THEY don't read all your wonderful e-mails, but they all had a very good day yesterday, playing and having a great time like all kids should. So I can't thank you enough for holding them up in prayer. God was carrying them yesterday. We can't tell you how much that means to us as parents. Facing all the tumor stuff is one thing; but watching your kids try to deal with it is quite another. As for dealing with the tumor itself, after seeking lots of advice and even as we are in the middle of getting a few official second opinions from other institutions, we are moving forward with plans to have Dr. Boggan operate to remove the tumor. We are awaiting a surgery date at this point and should be told that within a week. Waiting for notification of that date is gonna be a bit nerve wracking because so many things revolve around that date. We're thinking we'd like to get away as a family. Also before the diagnosis, I had made some plans for our wedding anniversary which is on Sept. 10th and now even more I hope that can happen, but all of this depends on the surgery date. LaShawn feels like her symptoms are a little worse today, but of course she wonders if she's just real tired. Thank you to all of you who have signed the Guest Book on the website, and the many of you who have flooded us with e-mails. We received about 10 an hour over the past 2 days. We feel like George Bailey in "Its a Wonderful Life." To my knowledge, there are people praying all over the US and in Romania, Ireland, Mexico, China, & Brazil. People may ask, "How can a loving God allow evil and suffering?" Well, let me just say that in the midst of this trial we have seen God's love directly and through people in ways we have never experienced it before. For those of you who know me and my love of apologetics (defending the faith), God is taking me to a whole new level. So far (and I realize it is only day 5), it turns out that all those intellectual answers I have been dishing out over the years are actually proving true.... God is faithful... really.
In His Care, Dave
p.s. I want to repeat that this website was set up and is maintained by my sister-in-law, Susan Montoya. Many of you have thanked us for setting up the site, but all we are doing is sending in the updates. We are indebted to her for doing this for us.
Day 5- August 28, 2004 Updated 11:00PM
There's not much to report today, because we are in another one of those waiting periods. Waiting for a surgery date; waiting for some second opinions. Even though we have less than one week's experience with this kind of thing, the waiting periods seem to be the hardest because you can't do anything constructive about it. I am writing this on Saturday night and I suspect that Sunday will also be a wait day. I think I am going to take a Sabbath rest from all the "Intraventricular Meningioma" and related brain tumor web sites for a day - there's only so much information you can get on these things. My parents and LaShawn's sister have come up again to attend church with us Sunday. Our pastor intends to have the congregation pray for LaShawn during his message time. Praise God for a supportive church (right here and around the globe!). After church my parents will join us at LaShawn's parents' house for the day here in Paradise. Our hope is to hear something on Monday but there are no guarantees on that. Of course we'll let you know of new developments. For prayer: Continued stamina and strength. We're feelin' a bit worn out after the week's events. The kids still seem to be doing pretty well. Their Cousin Megan has been up for a few days and I think that has helped.
Day 7- August 30, 2004
Well, we're back into another cycle of activity. Having done a bunch of research and gotten various recommendations about various top surgeons, I was all set to try contacting some of them this morning. (I tried over the weekend, but that just wasn't working). Late last night, though, I sent an e-mail directly to one of the top surgeons in the country at Cedars Sinai in LA, Dr Keith Black. I wrote a note and attached the two photos that we have here on the website. I guess that (and your prayers) got his attention because his office called this morning to say that he got the e-mail, saw the pictures and was willing to see her in the next few days. So we are getting on a plane tomorrow morning, heading down to LA, seeing Dr Black and heading back. If we are going to get a second opinion this really does seem to be the place to get it and the person to get it from. How is the family? Well, in the midst of me scrambling to make appointments and flight arrangements, we had some good ol' Montoya homestead minor drama as Ciara and Ryan were back on our property cutting through blackberries along the creek in an ill-fated attempt to rescue a baby raccoon that had somehow gotten itself stuck in some kind of pipe. They didn't get to it in time (thank-goodness for them!) and the little guy drowned before they could free him. Ciara was a bit upset that she failed to save him, but I informed her that saving raccoons is really not the safest thing in the world - and that's why God created Animal Control. How did we know he was stuck? The little guy woke us all up this morning with his awful howling. I share this because it was a much needed dose of normal abnormality in an otherwise surreal week. For prayer: WISDOM. From this second opinion we will be weighing several things. Is LaShawn's tumor in such a bad spot that we should sacrifice having this done near home and family in order to have the "best of the best" do the operation? Or, when it comes to our situation, are Boggan and Black pretty much in the same league. We'd much prefer to stay here in the area. But I (we) want LaShawn to have the best care possible. Let me say again that you have all been wonderful at being supportive and encouraging. I know it must be hard to refrain from throwing in your own opinions as answers to these tough questions, but I can't tell you how much we have appreciated the fact that ALL of you have just been encouragers, giving us the space we need to work through these things. Please rest assured that among you are some who are well qualified to help us through these tough decisions and we have made contact with them. Thank all of you for each part you have played!
This just in... Good friends of ours in LA have arranged for us to see another top neurosurgeon, Dr. Neil Martin, who practices at UCLA, while we are there. So I guess we'll be getting some really good 2nd opinions!
Day 8- August 31, 2004
2:00 PM Update: We just got out of appointment number 1 at Cedars-Sinai. They have internet access here in the waiting room and we have 2 1/2 hours to wait till our appointment at UCLA... so here I am with an initial reaction...
In terms of diagnosis, Dr. Black said pretty much the same thing as Dr Boggan (kind of tumor, rarity, placement, etc). He also agreed surgery was the best option ("within a month" again). The main difference was the higher level of confidence he expressed in being able to get the tumor without doing damage to the brain. He gave us percentages for various possible complications (for example, total paralysis less than 5%; partial paralysis less than 15%). Those were some very encouraging numbers to hear. Again, we are fresh out of the appointment, so I'm kind of regurgitating this without processing it (these appointments are nerve wracking), but our initial reaction was even more positive than after meeting with Dr Boggan.
It is 2pm. We meet with Dr Martin of UCLA at 4:30pm. We'll be back in Sac around 9 and back in Paradise around 11 tonight. Thanks for praying. Late Evening Update:
Well, Tuesday was a very long day. It started with a cancelled flight heading down to LA and ended with a delayed flight coming back. And those were just the bookends! Everything in between was a bit of a roller-coaster, but overall positive. It was definitely a good idea to get these two extra opinions. Now we have 3 expert's opinions and each one's diagnosis was the same and each one's recommendations were also pretty close. Both Drs. Black and Martin were confident that they could remove the tumor with a pretty minimal chance of any severe complications (Dr Martin gave pretty much the exact same percentages as Dr Black as mentioned in my last update). Both said they had experience successfully removing these kinds of tumors (in this location). So our relief quotient has come up yet another notch since the first day a week and a day ago when the first neurosurgeon gave us the news in Chico. That is by and large, the best news.
So now we have to decide which place to go. At this point I don't want to get everyone involved in all the details of how we are comparing each choice, but let me just make the general comment that we praise God that we are choosing from among the best and with far more confidence than we had a week ago. We consider ourselves very blessed and very fortunate that we even have such choices before us. Thank you to those of you who pointed us in the right directions and even hooked us up with these remarkable people and hospitals.
So here's the challenging stuff we face: First, deciding which place to go to (and there are differences). Second, the last Dr, Dr. Martin of UCLA, expressed a greater urgency than the other two about removing the tumor. The others said within a month. He said that he'd want to take it out next week. In general, he explained more than the other two, and on this specific point he explained why they are all saying that it has to come out soon: He said that once symptoms appear, that means the brain has reached its limit in accommodating the growing tumor and that as time goes by, the rate of deterioration of function will increase. He also said that there is a likelihood that these symptoms (and any that appear between now and surgery) are likely to be irreversible. So Dr. Black had us kind of thinking this was like pulling a tooth (well, not exactly), but Dr. Martin brought us back to reality. With that kind of urgency in mind, we will be making this decision Wednesday. By the way, UCD has still not called with a surgery date. Hmmm. The kids did well while we were gone (that's a praise!). Special thanks to LaShawn's lifelong friend Deborah McAdams for driving us around LA all day to get to these appointments. (Because of the cancelled flight, we flew in to LAX and out of Burbank - so we were everywhere). And thanks to Deb's parents for hooking us up with Dr Martin! Okay, your prayers for the kids are really having impact. And your prayers for the resolution of this tumor are also seeing affects as the news seems to get better every day. My request today is for my and LaShawn's endurance. Today wiped us out - I think the exhaustion (physical and emotional) is starting to show. The plane ride home was difficult. And pray for LaShawn's parents, Doug and Kay, who are playing Mom and Dad so often in our absence.
Day 9: September 1, 2004 11:30 PM Update
Well, after getting lots of advice and opinions and prayer, we have decided to go with UCLA and Dr Neil Martin. No need to rehearse all of our many reasons, but suffice it to say that we feel very good about going there. He is going to do a few extra things (explained later) to aid him in getting the tumor which will mean coming down a few days before the surgery. When I called them to tell them it was a go, they set it all up within a few hours (when I called to cancel at UC Davis today, the process had not moved past the first step). So here is the schedule with some explanation of things: Thursday Sept. 9th: Head down to LA. (probably just LaShawn and I at that point) Friday, Sept. 10th (our anniversary): LaShawn will have her pre-op physical in the morning (that's just what they do before all major surgeries to make sure you don't have any other issues that could affect the surgery) and then in the evening lab work and another MRI. From this MRI they will construct, via computer, a 3-D image of her brain that will serve as their guidance system during surgery. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 & 12: Its the weekend and they won't do anything medical! We plan to celebrate a very special anniversary right there in LA over the weekend and before the Big Day. We thank God that we get that little breather to be alone and pause from what has come before and what will come after. Monday, Sept. 13: They will do an angiogram and an embolization (sp?). This will be a long procedure (several hours). An angiogram is where they insert a small catheter into an artery (or is it a vein?) in the upper leg and send it way up toward the head and I believe they send in some dye that will allow them to map the blood flow to the tumor. This is important for a few reasons. One thing we have learned is that blood and the brain don't mix (when they do mix, it's called a stroke). So they want to know exactly where the veins are and they want to know which ones that feed the tumor also feed other important parts of the brain. So they don't want bleeding and they don't want to cut off the supply to important areas. Knowing all this helps guide them in the surgery. From what he explained, the embolization is a process where they can send a sort of "glue" in there to cut off blood flow only to the tumor. How they do that, I have no idea. All of that happens on Monday. Tuesday, Sept. 14: The Day of the Surgery. He said it would take all day. I know that at least Lashawn's Mom and Dad will be down by that time and maybe some more family members. Wed - Friday, Sept. 15-17: LaShawn will be in the Intensive Care Unit for these 3 days. Saturday - Tuesday (approx): If all has gone well with no complications, they will move her out of ICU to a regular room. By Monday or Tuesday, (the 20th/21st), if everything is okay, they will remove her stitches and discharge her. He said that he prefers that she stay in LA for up to one more week for observation, but the length of that period depends on how well she is doing. So, in about a week we will be heading down there. We plan to take a family trip over to the coast over the Labor Day weekend. A friend has generously made it possible for us to rent a house over near the coast north of Bodega Bay. Mt Everest is too far and a bit too high (and LaShawn never really did want to climb it anyway). We have known that if time permitted we would want to do something like this before the surgery. We talked about several possibilities as a family and this place seems just perfect. Its a very nice house and this should be restful but also fun for the kids (its right on the Russian River; and the ocean is nearby among other things). So that is where we are. We have taken this one hill at a time. Each hill has been different. This last hill of running around getting opinions and deciding what to do, was a sprint. Now we are entering a week of what we hope is relative calm before the next hill which is the disruption and scariness of major brain surgery. I am not sure what this next week is going to be like as we just kind of wait. Of course our intention is to make it a very good time together as family, and to try to be "normal" for a week. What is hard to predict is how knowing what is coming is going to affect us. I don't THINK I will be sending as many updates this week, because all the major activity is over (right?) until next Friday. If I do discover that our prayer needs change, I'll let you know that. Or maybe we can just take this time to tell you less about the "events" and more about how everyone is doing. We'll see. Again, we cannot possibly express how much all of your e-mails and guest book signings and prayers have meant to us. Oh that everyone who faces something like this could have the kind of love and support that we have had! You are all absolutely wonderful!
For Prayer: That during the next week we'll be at peace and just enjoy one another and God's love; That He would "fill up our tanks" and strengthen us individually and as a family for the weeks that are to follow.
Day 11: September 3, 2004
9:30 AM UPDATE Hello Loved Ones-
Again, I cannot express how deeply comforting your emails are to me. Thank you for taking the time to write and send letters. And, of course, your prayers are of inestimable worth. I am actually looking forward to this surgery. Not only because of the obvious (get this thing outta me!:), but I feel like this is the biggest challenge I will ever face, and it has been sifted through the Father's hands to me...... and He considers me able and ready to do "all things through Christ who strengthens me." This is not just religious mumbo-jumbo, but a reality that I know now on a completely different level than I ever have before. Up to this point in my life, my biggest trials were my struggles with anorexia and bulimia in high school/college, and then some early marriage struggles...both of which I look back on and thank God for because of the person they have made me today. But now I am facing something which is way more scary and uncertain and life-threatening. The weird thing is, I am more at peace and calm and ready to face this than I could have imagined. It makes absolutely no sense at a human level....but if there is any proof there is a God, this is it! Some of you wonder how I am feeling physically at this point. Constant headache, continued numbness, heaviness and weakness on my right side (arms, legs, face, etc), and I limp a little bit. It's gotten worse in the past few weeks, but nothing I have to use a wheelchair for:-)! I have been told that even if the tumor is removed in its entirety, there is a possibility that the damage already done is irreversible. If that is the case, this will be my "thorn in the flesh" (like Paul describes in 2 Corinthians12:7 ) to keep me humble and remind me that it's not about doing things in my own strength, but God's. I think I can live with that!:) I am excited to go to the coast this weekend. I love being by the ocean and feel closest to God when I am out in His creation. Plus it'll keep the kids busy and I can take some naps at last:-) ! Love to you all La Shawn P.S. Feel free to write; Dave says we will still have internet access at this place.
Day 15: September 7, 2004
Noon Update We are back now from our Labor Day weekend getaway. We had a really good time there - the kids especially had lots of fun. Ryan had a good friend join him and Dave's sister, Terri, brought her kids: Ciara's cousin Megan to be with Ciara and Logan's 3 year old cousin Raegan to play with Logan. It was great for all the kids to have friends and playmates, even the 3-year-olds (though at one point little Raegan declared, in tears, that she was not going to marry Logan because he was ignoring her!) Being on the river was wonderful. It is a lazy, shallow river so the kids went down and supervised themselves and had a blast. LaShawn got to take naps in the afternoon and generally not concern herself with anything that mom's have to concern themselves with on a daily basis. Now we have 2 and half days until we head down to LA. We've gotten most everything arranged. The part that is still hardest to plan for is the kids. For the next 2 plus weeks they are going to be watched over by various people and be in various places. We're still not sure when to have them come down and such, and much of it we are going to play by ear as things develop. We still appreciate your prayers in this regard as this is going to be a stressful time for them. I guess what makes it hard is the obvious: when you are going through hard times as a family, you want to be together as a family and as parents you want to keep your kids close to protect them, but in this case part of what is going to make it hard is that we will be separated a good deal of the time. On the brighter side, we know that if the surgery is successful, this will be a very good growing experience for Ciara and Ryan, and Logan may be cranky for two weeks (we pity his caretakers over the next few weeks!), but will forget all about it shortly thereafter. That is our prayer. Here's a couple of new details about the medical procedures: When LaShawn goes in Monday morning (the 13th) for the angiogram/embolization procedure she will be admitted at that time. That wasn't clear to me before (I thought she'd be admitted the next day, on the morning of the surgery). A friend of ours passed on to us a first hand description of what it is like in the operating room during neurosurgery, and in particular the kind of concentration required of the neurosurgeon: "He cannot take his eyes off the surgical site at all and is usually using a microscope. There is no joking around or laughing - everyone has to whisper..." I hope that that motivates you like it motivates me to pray that Dr Martin is in good form that day! He said the surgery would last all day. He won't open up or close and that has a lot to do with saving himself for the hard stuff which lasts the longest. Dave
Day 17: September 9, 2004
3:00 PM Update
In a few moments we will be saying goodbye to the kids and heading down to Sacramento to catch the plane to Los Angeles. Needless to say, it has been an emotional day for LaShawn and saying goodbye to the kids will be tough. Of course she doesn't want to upset them, yet she wants to give them a meaningful goodbye at the same time, in case of the worst - how do you strike the balance? Tonight we'll stay in a hotel near the med center and tomorrow morning at 10:30 am she goes in for the pre-op physical and lab work That should last 1-2 hours. Then we get a break and we go back in at 5:30 pm for an MRI. That should last about an hour. After that we will steal away to a condo on the beach in Ventura for our anniversary weekend. We never did leave the river last week, so now is LaShawn's chance for that peaceful time on the beach (sans kids). We have to say that this is one part of this whole thing we are looking forward to. One concern on that score is the possibility that they give her some kind of medication on Friday, like a steroid to decrease the swelling in her brain. Side effects from that sort of thing are depression, anxiety, and such. That would not be a pleasant way to spend the weekend. On Sunday evening we will be going to my brother Chris' house in Valencia. All of you family and close friends (that includes all you current and former UCD students!) who live in Southern California are invited to come by and hang out. This little get together will start at 6:00pm. I would encourage you to come closer to 6, as I can't guarantee how long we will stay.
I want to say yet again how much all of your e-mails have meant to us. LaShawn can barely keep up with reading them (but that is a good thing). And thank you for not expecting replies. So many of you have offered such practical help. I wish we could take all of you up on your offers to let you be blessed that way. Believe me, if we need something that you have offered, we'll let you know! You are all awesome. I have lost track of all the countries represented in our little praying community - but here's a try: All over the USA, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Vanuatu Island, China, Romania, Ireland, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, India, Liberia, and I know I am forgetting a few others. We cannot thank you all enough for your prayers! I'll keep you updated as often as I can, especially as we get into the thick of things. On the day of the surgery (Tuesday), my brother Ben will be with me in the waiting room and he'll pass on to his wife, who will pass on to you any updates from the operating room that we get. In His Powerful Care, Dave & LaShawn
Day 18: September 10, 2004
It's lunch time and we are between appointments so we ducked into an internet cafe for lunch and to send out the latest (we're writing this one together). This morning we went in at 10:20 and were out by noon. They pretty much grilled LaShawn with a million questions, did a physical, drew blood and then set up all the financial stuff. The people have been very kind and because of friends of ours with connections at UCLA, we've had kind of a "personal assistant" who has taken us to each station and expedited the process (so, for example at the lab, we sat down in a very crowded waiting room and then not 2 minutes later we were in!). We thank God for such small graces - they really don't seem that small at a time like this.
We're gonna kill time now until 5:30 pm when they take an MRI. Their purpose is to map out her head for the surgery. They'll see whether the tumor has grown (or shrunk :-)!) So all of the medical stuff has been pretty smooth - but let me tell you what really got my (Dave's) pulse going. When we got off the plane yesterday, we collected our bags at baggage claim and were at the curb when I realized that I had left my cell phone and my wallet (which holds my cash, credit cards and PALM PILOT!) on the plane. So I dashed to a ticket counter and they sent me to baggage claim and by that time the plane was pushing off. The last thing the guy on the walkie talkie said was, "we did a check and we haven't found anything, but we'll check again when we land." Ugh! Those of you who know me know that my Palm Pilot is my brain, and on this occasion its got all kinds of important phone numbers, appointment times and places and so on. Of course, LaShawn remained calm throughout the whole thing, proving that she is calm not only with her own brain issues but also with mine! Well, to make a long story short, they found the stuff, returned it to Burbank and our friend Deborah has picked it up and will be getting it to us tonight... whew!
Besides that episode, we are actually enjoying ourselves and look forward to the weekend in Ventura. Many thanks for all your prayers that have kept us at peace, and to the generous friends who have made it possible for us to have a really nice weekend and not worry about the expense. On Sunday evening we will be going to my brother Chris' house in Valencia. All of you family and close friends (that includes all you current and former UCD students!) who live in Southern California are invited to come by and hang out. This little get together will start at 6:00pm. I would encourage you to come closer to 6, as I can't guarantee how long we will stay.
At Peace in Him, LaShawn and Dave
8:30 p.m. Update
We passed the time this afternoon by watching that new movie, "Cellular." A nice diversion...
LaShawn had her MRI at 5:30 and the tumor was still very much there. The tech was real nice and let us look at it at all angles on his computer afterwards, measured it and such. Doesn't look like it has changed much.
We got a call from the Neurosurgery Dept. and they have moved her Monday morning procedures (angiogram and embolization), from 10am to 7am. LaShawn, always looking on the bright side, is glad that its earlier because she's not allowed to eat 8 hours before the procedure and the thought of missing breakfast AND lunch was a bit unnerving!
And now, its off to Ventura... Dave
Day 20 September 12, 2004
We've been away from the internet for the past few days (probably a good thing). But now I am connected again so here is the latest.
First of all, we had the most wonderful time this weekend in Ventura. I do not exaggerate when I say that this was the best anniversary we have ever had. It was fabulous. How could it have been so good in light of the current circumstances? I think part of why it was so good was precisely BECAUSE of the current circumstances. Facing major brain surgery has a way of putting life in perspective and makes all that is good about celebrating an anniversary even better. Being right on the beach was absolutely wonderful. The peace and power of the ocean were so reflective of the power and love of God. What a wonderful place to pray together.
Last night we went to my brother Chris' house where some family and many Davis friends showed up for what felt more like a party. It was a great time and we spent time in prayer together as well. Then we headed down to hotel across the street from UCLA.
FYI: Our church in Paradise is going to be observing a day of prayer and fasting on Tuesday (the day of the surgery) feel free to join in. Also, if anybody wants to send anything this way (some have asked); I'll be staying at the Tiverton Guest House, 900 Tiverton Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.
Day 21: September 13, 2004
10:00 AM Update
Right now I am sitting in the Surgical Waiting Area. I guess this is kind of the pre-test for tomorrow. About an hour ago, they began the angio/embolization procedure. For those of you concerned about the discomfort of an angiogram, don't worry, they gave her a general anesthesia, because she needs to be motionless for the embolization. They will be threading a hair-sized guide wire from her leg up into her brain to the arteries that feed the tumor. They guide it with the use of an x-ray as they go along. Along the guide wire they will send a micro-catheter to send first dye (for the angiogram) and then the "stuff" for the embolization to cut off blood flow to the tumor. So they started around 9am and said it should last about 3 hours. I'm not sure when I get to see her next. The doctors and nurses so far have been great - humorous and kind. Every time I said "goodbye" this one nurse named Alma, kept saying, "not goodbye... its 'I'll see ya later'"
My brother, Pat, who flew out from the East Coast for the surgery is heading over to hang out with me.
Sometime around noon or thereafter, I should know more. Dave
10:30 AM Update
I just spoke to the Doctor who was performing the angio/embolization. He said that the angiogram went fine and that information will be very useful for the surgery tomorrow. However, they did not go through with the Embolization because the angio revealed that some of the arteries supplying the tumor also supply the normal brain tissue, so to embolize those arteries would be like giving her a stroke. Unfortunately, that means that Tomorrow, Dr Martin has to be very careful about those arteries when he removes the tumor. The embo. was meant to lessen the risk of bleeding.
Right now she is recovery and they said I can go see her in an hour (11:30). Dave
1:00 PM Update
We (me, my brother Pat, and LaShawn's mom, Dad and sister) got to visit lashawn in her room where she is resting after the procedure. She's just groggy and a little uncomfortable, but otherwise okay. I'm getting some lunch with the family. Dave
10:15 PM Update
This was a long day. I thought it would be a bit easier than it turned out. The anesthesia they gave her earlier has made LaShawn nauseous all day and into tonight. And of course they keep a drip in her all the time which means she has to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes so trying to sleep is near impossible. I'm staying with her tonight in her room and just praying that she can go to sleep.
Dr Martin came by around 9:30 to talk over tomorrow's procedure. He said that because they couldn't do the embolization, the surgery is going to be "very tricky," and "long and tedious," as he has to be very careful with those arteries feeding the tumor. He said that he may have to leave some but that if he does, whatever he leaves can be gone after with radiation.
I didn't expect her to be quite so uncomfortable and feeling ill today. Even if all goes well with surgery, she'll be in ICU for 2 or 3 days and that is supposed to be worse than this.
Surgery is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. My brother, Ben, will try to get out any news we get through his wife, Susan, onto the website. I'm not sure how often they will update us. You probably won't be hearing directly from me for a bit, but who knows. The kids sounded very good when I talked with them tonight. My parents say they are doing well, even Logan. Keep praying for them, please.
If you see this tonight just pray LaShawn can have a peaceful sleep. Also pray for LaShawn's Mom, Dad and sister. I really feel for them. I have gotten to spend precious "normal" time with LaShawn over the past several days, and they come down only to see her ill in the hospital. Its so hard when you want to spend time with your loved one, yet they need rest.
If you are reading this Tuesday morning, now is the time to pray that all goes well. We really want our LaShawn back after Tuesday... all of her! In Him, Dave
11:30 PM Update
I am happy to report that LaShawn is asleep. they gave her something for her nausea and something to help her sleep. It seems to be working. Praise God. Dave.
Day 22: September 14, 2004 - SURGERY DAY
8:30 AM Update
Dave here. LaShawn slept well after 10:30 last night.
LaShawn's family showed up at 5:30am (right). They moved her down to pre-op at 6pm and only I was allowed to go down there. It was actually a very peaceful, comforting time. The various doctors who were going to be involved came by and they were reassuring. One guy was an OR nurse who had been there a long time and talked about how meticulous and fabulous Dr Martin is. He said if he ever had brain surgery, Dr Martin would be his man. He told us humorous stories that illustrated how Dr Martin runs a tight ship when he's operating. They told us that the operation will be at least 8 hours.
It turns out to be a real blessing that we have Dr Martin. The fact that they couldn't do the embolization means that the artery work is gonna be tough and Dr Martin specializes in neurovascular brain surgery.
We said our good byes and she went in at 7:30 am sharp. They put her under at that time and all the set-up will take about 2 hours, so they will not actually make the incision till 9:30. LaShawn was happy that they weren't going to cut her hair until she was under anesthesia :-).
So here in the waiting room are me, LaShawn's mom (Kay) and Dad (Doug) and sister (Trinity), my brother Ben and my Senior Pastor and his wife, Larry and Faith Shelton. My brother Pat is stuck in LA traffic; my sisters Terri and Natasha are on their way down from Northern California and my brother Chris will also be by later.
We expect updates every 2-3 hours but they said they don't expect to be reporting anything too exciting. Let's just say boring news is good news. I'll probably write these updates unless things get dicey.
11:02 AM Update
We just got word that they are making the first incision through the scull. There were no delays, it's just that the setup for this procedure takes a long time. So far everything is going fine.
Some people have asked if LaShawn will be awake during the surgery. She will not be awake during this surgery. It is not required in her case.
1:30 PM Update
LaShawn's childhood friend, Alicia, an MD at UCLA, informed us that the surgery is continuing and things are going okay.
3:40 PM Update
The doctors are currently working on the tumor. Everything is still going well. Dave is surrounded with family and friends and everyone is in good spirits. We think that the surgery will go till at least 5:00 PM, but it could be longer.
5:15 PM Update
I checked in with Ben (Dave's brother) and he said they have not had any new updates. She is still in surgery. Susan
5:55 PM Update
Dave here. Just got off the phone with the OR Nurse (her name is Holly, by the way - she's in there the whole time and comes out to give me the updates over a phone.) She said again that everything is going okay and that LaShawn is doing just fine. She said Dr Martin is still working on the tumor. She said, "now might be a good time to get some dinner." So of course I asked, "any idea how much longer?" She said that they really couldn't say but that it would still be a long while. She said she would definitely let me know when they had an idea of that. So it is good (to me and those of us present) that he is still going after that tumor. We want him to get as much as he can and take care of those arteries and we don't care how long it takes. So as long as they keep saying, "she's doing fine," and "the surgery is going well," we're pretty stoked here.
You should see the scene here. LaShawn's family is here. Her childhood friends and some of their families are here, other of our friends are here and I've got all my brothers and sisters minus one. I love my brothers and sisters - they just keep things really light - that's the Montoya way of dealing with this kind of waiting. This waiting room is a sight. We've taken over a whole section and most of the time you wouldn't think we were a bunch of people waiting on major brain surgery. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of sharing, and now we are about to pray together again. And thank you for your continued prayers and e-mails and guest book encouragement.
Still Keeping on by God's Grace, Dave
7:55 PM Update
Holly the nurse reports that all is still going well and that Dr Martin is "almost finished under the microscope." We take that to mean, "almost finished with the tumor resection and all the other important stuff." She said that once he is finished "under the microscope" they would begin closing and that will take another few hours. After that she goes into the recovery room which is another few hours and then she is moved to ICU. We are hoping that the Doctor will come out when he is done and talk to us. Dave
8:10 PM Update
Holly just called again. She said Dr Martin is done working under the microscope and they have begun closing and that should take 1.5 to 2 hours more. She said the doctor will come out and talk to us when he can. I'll let you know what he says. Dave
10:00 PM Update
Dave and the rest of the gang are still waiting for Dr. Martin to come out and give them the details of the operation. Susan
Dr. Martin just came into the waiting room and told everyone that he removed ALL of the tumor! The operation was very successful and LaShawn was actually conscious, groggy of course, but she was able to talk and move her arms and legs. They haven't ruled out any post-operation effects, but so far things look really good. The waiting room is filled with laughter and tears of joy. Dave is euphoric! He said to give you this update and when he can calm down enough, he will follow up with more details. He will be able to go in and see LaShawn in about 30 minute. Thanks to ALL of you who have so faithfully lifted Dave and LaShawn and the whole family and medical staff up in prayer. God DOES hear our prayers.
Day 23: September 15, 2004
1:00 AM Update
It's 1 am at the end of this oh so amazing day. Time and health dictate that I will force myself to make this last update short and get myself to bed because I am quite exhausted. But emotionally, I feel that I could write a book right now. Words can't describe all the emotions I am feeling (all good, of course). Let me just give you the last events of the day and then tell you just a LITTLE how I feel and then I will end (more to come in coming days)...
After the good doctor brought the good news, we all (there were nearly 20 of us there all day) burst into cheers and tears and hugs and then many weary but happy people started heading home. Lashawn's family, my brother pat and my sisters Terri and Tasha stuck around another hour or so (11:30) until they finally let us go up to see her in the ICU. We had to go in groups of 2. Pat and I went first (so Pat could get going home). Oh what a sight she was to see (I mean a good sight!). She was bleary eyed and groggy but awake and moving. She managed a faint smile and kept trying to touch the "turban" on her head (lots o' bandages). It was just so wonderful to hear her talk and know that she was comprehending all we were saying. The head ICU nurse (who really seemed more doctor-like than nurse-like) was VERY nice and helpful and said she was doing VERY well and that she could get out of ICU in as soon as 2 days. A doc showed up and checked her out while we were there and repeated that she is doing well. Trin and Kay (Lashawn's sister and mom) went up next and then my sisters. Everyone made their visits short. Then all of them left and I went up to say good night. Again, I can't describe how wonderful it was. As I was leaving they were giving her morphine and she was drifting off to sleep.
Today had to be the longest day of my life. Most of it went really well. But the last 2 hours, after they said they were closing up and that the doctor would come out to talk to us, were excruciating. I just couldn't keep my eyes off the corridor. I knew all the updates through the nurse were pretty general even if they were positive. I knew that the doctor would tell us the details. I had prepared myself to hear that he couldn't get it all and so she'd need radiation to finish it. So you can imagine how overjoyed I was (and everyone else) when he gave so a positive report. You should have seen it. All day long doctors were coming out to distraught families giving their "final reports" in low murmurs off in a corner of the waiting room. When Dr Martin came down that hallway I walked over to meet him in the middle of the lobby and then he soon found himself surrounded right out in the middle of the hospital lobby by all these eager ears. He gave his report, I asked a few questions, and he gave even more positive answers, I gave him a very hearty and heart felt "THANK YOU!" and everyone burst into applause. It was like the collective breath-holding just ended.
Now its all done for the night. I got back to my room and took a much needed shower and finally unpacked. I ate something and now its time to go to bed. I cannot express to you how important all your support has been. How did I spend the 15 hours waiting today? There was no way I could read a book or do anything that required that kind of concentration. So when I wasn't being entertained by my brothers and sisters, I was reading your e-mails and guest book signings. I felt like I was in constant conversation with all of you, as you wrote me and I sent you updates. It was wonderful.
And how do I feel right now? Well, there are 5 dates that sit at the top of my all-time favorites. The first, which was the day of my salvation on Nov. 30, 1974, will probably never be matched because it was not only emotional but also so much more than emotional and what happened that day has reached itself into every other day and every other aspect of my life. Then there is my wedding day on Sept. 10, 1988, the day I received for the first time, the gift that is LaShawn, my wife. Then there are the births of my 3 wonderful children (April 6 (Ciara), June 16 (Ryan) and June 12 (Logan)). To these 5 I have to add today, Sept. 14th, the day God gave me BACK my bride. While time may (perhaps) give me a different perspective, today I have to say that getting her back is even better than receiving her the first time. I don't think I have to explain why.
There is so much more I can say... but I will save it and myself, for later. Please continue to pray against infection, swelling in the brain, pain, nausea and general discomfort. Thank you all, and Praise God from whom this blessing flowed.
Still In His Wonderful Care, Dave
I just talked to Dave and he said he has been in to see LaShawn several times today and she is doing GREAT! She is doing so well that there is a possibility that they will move her out of ICU today. She is still on morphine, but seems to be feeling pretty good. They plan to take an MRI later today to confirm that all of the tumor has been removed. They can't be totally sure that they got it all until they give her an MRI. Susan
4:10 PM Update
Well, here she is! (Now you know what I mean by the Turban!)
We (me, Trin, Doug and Kay) saw LaShawn a little before 4pm and she was uncomfortable. The Morphine makes her nauseous so they are changing pain meds. They want to keep down the pain but they really don't want her nauseous because throwing up would not be good for her recovery. They said she'll have a real bad headache for the next 2 weeks (go figure!) So please pray for her comfort. We'll see her again at 6pm tonight and then I will go in later to say good night. Her family leaves to go back north tomorrow. Ciara and Ryan will be coming down for a visit tomorrow. They are excited. My parents report that Logan has been doing very very well, entertaining himself with his music and hot wheel cars for hours on end.
Right now I am reading through many of your wonderful e-mails. I can't wait till LaShawn can read these!
One more thing I forgot to mention yesterday: they did confirm through biopsy what they suspected which is that the tumor was a benign Meningioma. That is good news and means that if he did indeed get it all, the chances of it coming back are greatly reduced.
I'll keep you posted. Dave
10:30 pm Update
I'm back from the ICU. I went in at 8:30 and stayed with LaShawn until 10:00. I didn't yap much. Just sat by her side as she drifted in and out of sleep and helped her with little things like sips of water when the nurse wasn't there. She's still battling the nausea and pain. Neither are unbearable but are still very uncomfortable and kind of come in waves. Of course the pain medicine causes nausea. She threw up once while I was there. They are still trying different things. She's VERY exhausted. She whispers when she talks and barely opens her eyes. All of this is considered pretty normal and a lot is still the after-effects of anesthesia. They still say she is doing very well. That haven't moved her out of ICU only because a room on the neuro floor hasn't opened up yet. I'm not too concerned about that 'cause in ICU she gets round the clock, close supervision (the nurses are on for 12 hour shifts and only watch 2 patients and they are literally a couple of feet away at all times.)
The Bockus' childhood UCLA doctor friend came by and found the anesthesiologist "paying a social visit" (that is, just stopping by to see how she was, not because he had to). He said as an anesthesiologist he doesn't like keeping people under so long (15 hours); but he said that Dr Martin is incredibly meticulous and thorough so that he wasn't gonna rush things. He said that Dr Martin (we should just refer to him as "Doc Marten" from now on) had her blood meticulously monitored so that there was never any real danger in that dept. He said she only lost 2 units of blood which (he said) is an insignificant amount for a surgery and so pretty impressive.
LaShawn didn't get that MRI today. The MRI dept called while I was there to see if she could come down for it (the question was, "can she lay still flat on her back for an MRI." LaShawn said it would make her feel sick so the nurse told them to get lost :-) (The MRI is not time sensitive - it can wait another day or two). Of course I'm curious to see how it comes out, but she needs to get past the nausea.
I asked the nurse how it is that everyone at the UCLA med center is so cotton-pick in' friendly and helpful and compassionate (they really are). She said its because they are all pretty excited to work there because its such an awesome hospital. She said she travels 2 hours to get to work there because she wanted to get trained at the best possible place. Her name is Candy, by the way, and she'll be LaShawn's nurse till 7 am tomorrow morning. Pray God's blessing on Candy (even if you get this update after 7 am).
Tomorrow Ciara and Ryan fly down on their own and I'll meet them at the airport at 2:30. They'll hang out with me for a day and a half, get to see their mom, and then their uncles (my brothers, Mike and Ben) are gonna "show them the town" (universal Studios and San Diego's Wild Animal Park and Zoo). They're excited to come down.
Oh, and for those who want to send stuff, just address it as follows:
LaShawn Montoya Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Neurosurgical Recovery 10833 LeConte Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90095
Hold off on REAL FLOWERS until she gets out of the ICU (not allowed)! And do not feel obligated to send anything, esp a card if you have already sent an e-mail (she's got plenty to read already!)I may get a tape recorder and just read a ton of your e-mails and guest book signings onto a tape so that when she's a little more awake she can just push a button and listen to all of your wonderful words of love and support.
In Him, Dave
Day 24: September 16, 2004
This morning Lashawn was very uncomfortable and agitated, but as the day has progressed, she seemed to feel much better.
They removed the pressure bandage (the turban). They only cut a little path of her hair (not even an inch wide) that goes from the front to the back of her head (about 4 inches long). They were excited that she still had so much of her hair.
The Doctors got LaShawn out of bed today and had her sit in a chair for about 45 minutes -- it took a lot out of her but it got her blood pumping and that is really good for her. About an hour after sitting in the chair she seemed very perky. She's had very little nausea today and they even stopped the nausea medication. She finally had an appetite and was cracking jokes today. She had bright eyes and was much more like the LaShawn we know.
Due to the surgery and swelling her eyesight deteriorated (a normal reaction) and her vision with glasses was about 20/40 (usually near 20/20). Later in the afternoon they gave her another test and she had greatly improved. She is still in ICU because there is no rooms available, and she hasn't had the MRI yet.
Dave picked up the kids from the airport today and there are plans for the kids to see their mom tomorrow (when she is out of the ICU room).
Take care, Susan
8:00 PM Update
The kids arrived at 2:30pm. It was great to see them. I got them settled where I am staying and then went back to the hospital on my own to check on LaShawn. They had just finished with her MRI and had moved her to her own room on a normal floor (out of ICU!). She is doing great. Every time I see her she is better. Nausea down, pain down, she's got her sense of humor (in fact I think Dr Martin might have kicked her sense of humor up a notch while he was in there!) She was teasing a new nurse about what he didn't know when I showed up. So, I went back and got the kids and brought them over to see her. That was great. Then we three went out to pizza and tonight after I check in on LaShawn we'll watch a movie.
More good news: Holly (Land) Cuevas, one of LaShawn's childhood friends, who once worked as a nurse at UCLA, is between jobs and will be able to cover for me tomorrow while the kids are with me. She'll be able to stay with LaShawn ALL day - so LaShawn has her own private nurse! That puts me at ease as I feel a bit torn between her and the kids. I'll still be in and out to see her, but won't be able to spend extended time with her.
It is just unbelievable how quickly LaShawn has gotten her sparkle back. This morning she seemed miserable. Now, She's laughing and talking. I'm going to head over there now with her quilt and her own pillow.
Day 25: September 17, 2004
I just talked to Dave and he said they may be releasing LaShawn from the hospital as early as tomorrow. She will need to stay around the area until her stitches are removed and for some physical therapy.
8:45 PM Update
Today we had a "minor setback." The physical therapist was having LaShawn walk down the hall and up a few stairs and she fainted. She did not fall and hurt herself or anything like that. But her blood pressure dropped some. She is fine now, but they have her hooked up to IV's again which makes it hard to go to the bathroom alone. They don't want her getting up for anything like that alone so she has to rely on a nurse, and of course, nurses seem to take forever to respond on normal floors.
So I'm heading over to spend the night. I tried unsuccessfully to get myself a camping mat or something 'cause this is the 7th floor (not the cushy 9th floor) and they don't provide a cot. Technically I'm not supposed to spend the night, but it depends on the nurse on shift and this one said I could. I'm expecting a long night, but I'm glad to get back to her after being away most of the day with my kids. My brothers will take over watching them tomorrow. Tonight my brother, Mike, is staying with them back at the guest house.
Her fainting obviously calls into question whether they will discharge her tomorrow. We don't want her to leave any sooner than she should. The kids got to see her a couple of times and I took them out to see Spider Man 2 on IMAX. Holly spent the day with LaShawn and a few other friends also dropped by to hang out with her.
I'm writing this out on the streets of LA, so I need to get going and get up to her room.
10:40 PM Update
At about 10:40 Dr Martin came by to check on LaShawn. I asked him about the MRI and he popped out the coolest Palm Pilot :-) and showed me some before and after MRI's. He said they got it all!
We talked about her fainting and he said she should stay here through tomorrow at least, to see how she does.
12:30 AM Update
They've given her all her meds for pain and such and they won't be disturbing her for 6 hours and now she's sleeping peacefully. I can't tell you how good it feels to see her fast asleep.
It's starting to sink in that we've got lots of recovery to get through. When I showed up today there was a walker in the room. "A walker?" I'm thinking. It takes her a while and a lot of effort to get up, get out of bed and get to the bathroom & that's with help. I don't have any sense of timing on all of this but from what I gather, she's gonna be moving pretty slowly for a while and she's gonna really need to take it easy when she goes home. When they found out about all the steps we have in our house they got concerned. So it looks like LaShawn and I will be moving to the guest room on the middle floor for a while!
I'm going to try to get some sleep myself.
Day 26: September 18, 2004
Hi everyone. Just so you know, there will probably be fewer updates in the next couple of days (like today), because the webmaster (Susan) is married to my brother Ben who, starting today, is taking Ciara and Ryan around to various theme parks. Today, Universal Studios, tomorrow, Wild Animal Park, Monday, the SD Zoo.
LaShawn is doing well. Today was uneventful, in a good way. I see her strength slowly returning. They may discharge her tomorrow. If they do, we will go across the street to where I am staying at The Tiverton Guest House. She'll get in-house physical therapy there. Some have asked about why she is moving slowly and why she'll need physical therapy and such. As for the slow moving, I need to confirm it with a doc, but I think all that is a result of major surgery in general, not the brain surgery in particular. In other words, she's not moving slow because her brain got hurt by the tumor or the surgery. She's moving slow because anesthesia, invasive surgery, and all the meds they put you on afterwards make you feel like you got hit by a truck. When they do neuro tests on her (which they do at least twice a day), she looks real good, meaning she does not have diminished function. In fact, her symptoms from before the surgery seem to be subsiding. She still has that numbness and weakness on the right side, but its less (in fact, one nurse thought her right leg felt stronger than her left). Lashawn says that she still feels a sensation difference, but not as pronounced and its mostly in her hand now. The nurse who came on this evening said it was "amazing" that she came through all of this (esp the surgery) with no deficits.
So what about the physical therapy (and speech therapy)? It is just standard. Part of what they are doing is just assessing her and based on that assessment, giving her exercises and further recommendations. So, the speech therapist will most likely just say she's okay. But these people are also trained to spot deficits that the rest of us would miss. So, we'll see what they say.
My brother got me one of those self inflating camping pads. Yippee. Tonight should be more comfortable here in the room. I have to say again that this hospital is tops. EVERYONE (except one security guard, but who's keeping track?) has been kind, attentive, helpful and such. Yeah, nurses come in at 4 am to do what they need to do, but we've been in hospitals where they come crashing in, throw on the lights, and act surprised that the patient was actually sleeping! Here they are quiet and gentle and do what they have to do and acknowledge that it's a drag that they have to do it at that time. They are very patient-oriented even though they have so many tasks to do. LaShawn has seldom had that frustrating, "does anybody even know I am in here?" feeling when she needs stuff.
LaShawn's parents report that Logan is doing extremely well. My parents said the same. He is apparently better behaved than usual (that's got LaShawn and I wondering about our parenting, since he does better when we're absent! :-). Maybe he is just behaving better than we led them to believe! LaShawn talked to Logan on the phone and he was just so cute, rambling on about his cars (as usual). We miss him very much.
God has been good to us. But I am so mindful of others whose outcomes have not been so dramatically positive as ours. We feel so blessed, but are still confronted by the mystery of God's will.
It's 11:00 now and the nurse is in to take vitals...
Day 27: September 19, 2004
11:00 AM Update
One of the doctors was in to see LaShawn this morning and we agreed to her being discharged this afternoon (after lunch). She's been slow moving this morning, but the doc says that that is because she needs to start doing a little more moving. She is perhaps at the point where being in the hospital is less restful because you get waked up a lot and yet you lie around a lot. All her neurological signs look good; she just needs to regain her strength after surgery. Some friends from Davis are coming by today and hopefully they can help us move across the street.
On the one hand we'll be glad to leave the hospital as it marks the next step in recovery and it means she'll be able to sleep without interruption. On the other hand, it was great to have the constant care and the meals brought to the room. We have to figure how how we are going to do this (esp meals) as I don't think I should leave her alone in the next few days.
9:30 PM Update
I think I must have been in a fog this morning, looking back at the update. The morning was stressful as we were moving toward being discharged but not feeling very good about it. A lot of little details were out of place and LaShawn just seemed more wiped out than ever. But getting discharged was definitely the best thing to do. Our friends (Matt and Joy Robbins, Dave Keane, and Brian Gierhart) helped us move out and into the Tiverton house across the street. The weather couldn't have been better for someone coming out of the hospital. There was actually a blue sky (pretty rare in LA) and a nice breeze. Our friends went and grabbed us some lunch from Burger King and brought it to the room. LaShawn reports that just two bites into that burger and she felt like a new woman. She's been going uphill since then. I don't know if that's an ad for Burger King or just a commentary on hospital food!
So the stress has decreased dramatically. She is doing very well. Her spirits are up and she feels much more hopeful about a more speedy recovery (so do I).
In my foggy, stressed out morning update I am also afraid that I raised the alarm about how we were going to cope in the next few days getting food and such. Sometimes I forget how many of you are reading this. Let me just say thanks for all the ideas and offers to help with this. My sister, Terri, is arriving this evening and she'll stay at Tiverton with us a few days so we should be okay. We've also found out that a lot of the restaurants around here deliver to this place. So I think we will be set.
What's next? The Physical therapist(s) comes tomorrow at 11. I have said that LaShawn's symptoms are better on her right side (that they have diminished). Actually the numbness is less, but she feels like the strength in it is less than before. We'll learn more tomorrow. Of course, her main desire is just to get back her energy (you know LaShawn).
Thanks for your continued prayers!
Day 28: September 20, 2004
11:00 am update
LaShawn had an uncomfortable night's sleep. So, she's tired this morning, but seems to be perking up as the day moves on.
Our special prayer request for today is again for our kids. They seem to be having a hard time. They really miss us and they've been at each other the past few days. We almost had a mini-crisis. Ryan's little dog, Pippin went missing yesterday. I was just writing to ask all of you to pray for his return (because Ryan would be heartbroken if that dog was gone), but Kay called as I was typing this and reported that a lady found him last night and took him in for the night! Whew.
The physical therapist just arrived... got to go... Dave
Note: The ISP's (Internet Service Provider) server went down today, so if you were having trouble accessing the site -- that would be the reason. ~ The Webmaster.
10:00 pm update
A physical therapist and an occupational therapist came by today and both said that LaShawn was doing very well for what she had been through; much better than they expected to see before they arrived. My sister, Terri, is here and that has been a BIG help, making food runs and supply runs. I had to run around the hospital and back for 2 hours getting all her records and copies of her MRI's released and I couldn't have done that without someone to stay with LaShawn.
All that running around involved getting release forms from 2 separate departments, bringing them back to LaShawn to get them signed, going back to 3 different locations to get her written records, her old MRI's, and the new ones taken by UCLA. I have included a few before and after shots so you can see what's NOT left of the tumor. All she has is a big hole in the head! For those of you who are worried, its okay; she's just got more room to throw away thoughts she doesn't need. Seriously, though, the docs assure us that that cavity is not a problem.
We are optimistic that we can head back by the end of this week. But we need to talk to some doctors first and see if they are okay with that. The last concrete thing we are waiting for is the removal of her staples on Wednesday morning. Depending on what they say then and how LaShawn is feeling at that time, we'll know if we can leave Thursday or Friday or if we have to wait. We'd really like to go home!
The kids had a much better day today. Susan (the webmaster) took them to Sea World. (Let's hear it for Ben and Susan who already have 2 little ones of there own, taking their two and our two to amusement parks for 3 days in a row!) They have to be exhausted! Ciara and Ryan will fly back to Paradise Tuesday afternoon.
In the Home Stretch and Seeing the Finish Line,
Day 29: September 21, 2004
7:00 PM Update
Hi everyone, it's LaShawn. I feel well enough to dictate this message to Dave.
Today was definitely my best day yet. I actually got dressed and put some make-up on. I walked all the way around the hotel corridors twice. My nausea has decreased as my appetite has increased. My pain medications are working well; my headache never gets above a 3 (on a scale of 1 to 10). My main physical complaint is general weakness (esp on the right) and a total lack of energy. It's how you feel after having the flu for a week - empty and drained. I am really not looking forward to getting all 31 staples taken out of my head tomorrow morning (Wednesday) at 10 am. I've had 3 C-sections and getting the staples removed has always been the worst part.
After the staples come out we will ask how soon we can leave. Our hope is to leave as early as Friday. We'll drive home with Dave's sister, Terri. I have another physical therapy appointment Wednesday at 1 PM.
Emotionally, I am feeling very blessed to hear words of love and affirmation that most people only "hear" at their own funeral! I didn't know how many people cared for me before this all happened. It's very humbling and makes me cry. Before I "went under the knife" there were only 200 guest book signings and as many e-mails. Now I have to catch up on 500 plus signings and e-mails. I can say at this point that this tumor has been the biggest event and blessing of my life. It's brought me closer to my family and friends; my children are closer to their grandparents, uncles and aunts. It has clarified what is important in life: I am such a doer and a busybody, but this has caused me to slow down and just listen to God and think about my friends and reflect on life. I appreciate so much more my husband and my children and my in-laws and my friends and family all over the world. I feel like George Baily in "Its a Wonderful Life." I got a chance to glimpse what the world would be like without me. And through this whole thing I never once was dreading or fearful of what was coming; I just saw it coming and was very peaceful about it. And that is because of the peace that only Jesus gives.
Thank you to so many of you have been able to come and visit, to those of you who have sent flowers and cards and gifts, even to our kids. And special thanks to you special people (you know who you are) who have enabled us to get through this whole experience without going into debt, which is a miracle in itself.
I love you all, LaShawn
Day 30: September 22, 2004
Thank you for your prayers for the staple removal. It was NOTHING like the C-section staple removals. LaShawn says it felt more like someone pulling out a single strand of hair for each staple. We went upstairs from that experience to the Med Center hat and scarf boutique to buy a few hats and scarfs. One person (a guy, if you can believe it) had thought to give LaShawn a hat ahead of time and that's the one you saw in the picture.
The physical therapist came by again for a little bit more work. LaShawn seemed to have a bit less energy today, but they tell us there will be good days and bad days. She still walks at a pretty slow pace and tires out pretty easily. After being driven some short distances in a car, she decided she wants to brave flying home instead of driving. The docs gave us the all clear to head back on Friday. So we have one more full day down here to rest. If the flight wears her out, we'll probably spend the night at my parents in Granite Bay and then drive back to Paradise on Saturday.
The kids are doing well (they are glad to be home). But we all can't wait to be all together in our own house again!
Please pray for a good day of rest and for smooth travels on Friday.
Day 31: September 23, 2004
9:00 PM Update
Today was a very good day. Every day is better than the last. LaShawn got to wash her hair today and that was HUGE as far as she is concerned. She also put in her contacts (up to now, her eyes were still off, making her prescription wrong. They said that was normal but would probably shift back, and it has.) So my sister drove us a few blocks into town and we had lunch, and LaShawn bought some shoes without heels. She still uses the walker to get around, but I see her pace picking up each day. Terri booked her room through today and the place is full so she had to move out of her room and move in with us for the last night. So now there are three of us in here. If we weren't having cabin fever, we've got it now. We so can't wait to get home!
This experience and this website have created a very special community of support and encouragement and we'll miss having this special contact. As you can see, our life is, by God's amazing amazing grace, moving steadily toward normal. Those of you who know LaShawn know that I am going to have to tie her to a chair to keep her from overdoing it. Yes, we have several weeks (even months) to go before LaShawn is back to full function and our home church is going to be able to get their "updates" face to face when we return. Our plan is to bring some kind of "closure" to the site by writing our last update on Saturday when we have completed the journey home and are re-united with our kids.
We're not sure how LaShawn will do with security lines, sitting up for long periods and all the other stuff that goes with air travel, so please pray that all goes well.
Day 33: September 25, 2004
HOME TOGETHER AGAIN!
Greetings from lovely Paradise, CA!
We arrived home in Paradise last night about 8:45pm. We had smooth travel on Southwest Airlines at 2pm and then after a short rest up in Sacramento at Dave's sister Terri's house, LaShawn's sister Trinity came and drove us home at 6:30. I felt mild nausea during the traveling but nothing major. My head didn't explode from the pressure during flying (I was assured it wouldn't by the doctors but I wasn't looking forward to finding out firsthand!). My eyesight is a little blurry today, which is probably a result of that mild pressure and all the travel. I had a good sleep last night in our own bed! It was great to see my kids and parents and sister again, and all the work done on our house while we were away- it's amazing what can be done in two weeks time! The entire decking around our house (all 3 stories) is completely finished along with railing (which I need now more than ever), the new windows are in, the back upper deck has a big beautiful awning, and the copious vegetation around the house on our property was painstakingly removed by my Dad as well as new playground bark installed in the play area. Lots of indoor decorative goodies/improvements as well, which those of you who know my love of interior design will appreciate!:) The best part was seeing how well- adjusted 3-year old Logan is. He obviously didn't suffer much from our being gone and has a new, deeper relationship with both sets of parents. He seems a little tentative around my head and prefers me to wear my hats (I don't blame him!). He has been very cuddly and affectionate, which is just what the Dr. ordered. We're enjoying the day putting stuff away, making lists of what we need to do (and who we need to thank~) and lots of rest on my part. I feel tired and slow moving all the time, with few headaches (as long as I am diligent to take my headache meds on schedule)- much like one would feel after having the flu for a week, which is the best way I can describe it. My right hand and leg feel stiff, and it is hard to write and type. I see a local physical therapist on Monday and we'll see what he/she prescribes for me to do. I think it's mostly just strength gaining. I plan to attend church tomorrow (Yea!) and look forward to that so much. So, with that all being said, it has been almost exactly one month between the diagnosis and the return home. What an incredible month. We have had the privilege of seeing God heal me and answer prayers, of finding out just how much support we have among our friends, family and the worldwide family of God, realizing in a new way just how much we love our family, and how incredibly blessed we are in this journey we know as "life." Thanks to each and every one of you who prayed for me during this ordeal. Your prayers were ( and are ) the most valuable thing you could do for me and give to me. We are deeply grateful for the people who have given us very generous financial gifts- wow. We are overwhelmed and can't imagine how we could have financially survived this crisis without your help. Thank you to each of you who wrote me a card or note- I have saved each one and am putting them in a big album. Thank you to each person who sent me a flower arrangement, a hat (I love them~) personal items and books,magazines, etc. I hope to write well enough to send you a personal thank you card this next month. Thank you to our home church, Paradise Alliance, which has arranged LOTS of help for us in many areas (meals, cleaning, childcare, errands)- it is overwhelming and I appreciate it more than words can express. Thank you all for loving me and loving my family. What an awesome God! I love Him more and know Him more deeply through this experience and I am now waiting for God to show me who He wants me to encourage next who is going through a similar experience. Probably the most faith deepening aspect of this whole experience was not the positive outcome (as great as that is!), but being brought to the point where we thought we could lose it all, but still having God's peace and being willing to accept that loss - to us that is the greatest miracle. As we mentioned, we'd like to bring closure to the website, mainly as a step toward normalcy again. We'll leave the site up for a couple more weeks, and we'll only post something if something "big" happens (positive or negative) and you need an update (we aren't planning on that happening!). Ongoing requests are probably obvious: continued healing and recovery, patience for the whole family as we adjust to a more tired-out mom, and patience for me as I learn my limits and to obey my body signals! Also pray for Dave as he has effectively been out of the loop at work and needs to be back in the saddle asap- and juggling the homestead and job front. Pray for Dave's patience and for efficient use of time and good stress management. Please feel free to email us directly if you want to contact us personally and we will do our best to get back to you. We Montoya's love you all, and pray that you can experience the same deepening of faith and relationship with Christ that we have this month (albeit sans tumor! But God has his own mysterious ways for each of you:). God bless and thank you again for everything. Dave and LaShawn
UPDATE: October 18, 2004
Dear friends and family!
So, we thought it was about time for an update from the Montoyas!
Things continue to go very well for me (La Shawn). I had my 4 week post-surgery check up today down in Chico with the original neurosurgeon we saw , Dr. Mimbs (Dr. Martin said I didn't have to fly back to L.A. for this one). I had the routine neurology check up and all is great! No weakness or deficits anywhere. I still sense a slight lack of strength in my right hand and foot but it is apparent only to me. My headaches continue but I am down to only taking acetaminophen twice a day (morning and evening). The doctor said I need to have another MRI in 3 months to have as a "baseline MRI" from which to compare all the subsequent yearly MRI's I will have the rest of my life. The bigger concern than tumor regrowth at this point is hydrocephalus (fluid build-up in the brain). Evidently, in 10% of all intraventricular meningioma removals, hydrocephalus occurs after surgery. Meningiomas shed and they think that pieces of it can clog the fluid reabsorption mechanism in the brain. If I had any start to occur, they could take care of it fairly easily (whatever that means). He said I would know if I had hydrocephalus because I would start to act confused, my speech would be affected, or I could be incontinent (a lovely thought). I was sure he said that it could be detected by the yearly MRI's but Dave says that the MRI's are only to detect tumor regrowth (we'll have to get that sorted out). In terms of tumor regrowth, the doctor here in Chico said that even if Dr. Martin says he "got it all", no one can be 100% sure because it is just a visual determination through the microscope & MRI. Some of it can lie dormant for years and then start to grow and cause problems again. When doctors remove tumors in other parts of the body, they purposely remove surrounding tissue to make sure they got the whole tumor. But with the brain they can't do that, so there is always the chance that something may have been left behind. There aren't any statistics for regrowth because this particular tumor (intraventricular) is too rare to have a good sample from which to draw accurate statistics. Even so, I feel that we'll cross that bridge if (or when) we come to it. No worries here! My hair is starting to grow straight up like a mohawk and so I figure I may have to go BACK to hats in a week or so until the hair is long enough to lay flat again. I am doing a pretty neat comb-over lately and most people can't even tell where the scar is. It's amazing. I can feel little bumps and sore spots along the scar which are probably where I am feeling the titanium screws (and no, the metal detectors in airports can't sense them). In terms of my energy levels, I am doing pretty well (with the exception of the cold I developed this week, along with Logan and Ciara! Sore throat, stuffy nose, headache, slight fever). Dr. Mimbs says I can drive now (Yippee!) and I can do anything I want, as long as I listen to my body's "I'm tired" signals! I have help from our home church for one more week (meals and household help) and I am going to enjoy it while it lasts! We are looking forward to the holidays this year, as you all are- but it will be an especially sweet Thanksgiving this year, as we have SO MUCH to be thankful for. We are truly blessed. Thank you all again for being a huge part of that blessing from God.
We love you all! The Montoya's
1 Year Anniversary Update, October, 2005
Hello, friends and family! I'd say it's time for a very overdue update from the Montoya family! It is hard to believe it's already been over one year since my brain tumor removal last Sept. 14, 2004. My last update was October a year ago. Then I was basically just tired and had just a slight, residual numbness or weakness issue on my right side. Within another two weeks (6 weeks post surgery) I was back to 100% in terms of my energy levels. That was miraculous in and of itself. My follow-up MRI in January of '05 was completely clear as well- absolutely no regrowth of tumor, with no hydrocephalus. I have had an amazingly healthy year- more energy than I remember having ever before (and that's saying something, to those of you who know how much energy I have on a normal basis!) and unusually good health to boot. I've missed all the cold and flu bugs that my kids have brought home this year, also unusual for a mom of 3 school-aged kids! I still have that very minor sensory issue (or lack thereof) in my right foot, mainly, which I only notice when climbing stairs, for some reason. The doctors have said it could be some permanent nerve damage, or perhaps "phantom" sensory issues left over from the tumor. They may go away or get worse, or stay the same (boy, that covers all the possibilities, I guess:) but I can certainly live with this, as it in no way interferes with my life and only I notice it. I go in for my for next MRI this January and don't expect to see any changes other than perhaps the "hole" shrinking in a bit as time goes on.
This year has been full of changes as well. The older kids have started public school (high school and jr. high) for the first time, and so I am no longer a homeschool mom. Logan is in preschool 3 days a week and loving it as well. With the kids in school, I thought maybe I would look for a part time job, and then was asked to take over as the Children's Director at our church! So, here I am one year later, not only completely back to normal, but working a fulltime job for the first time in my life, and I'm loving it! This position is right up my alley (lots of creativity, vision-casting and administration) and I never dreamed I'd ever have an opportunity to work on the same staff as Dave (and we have a FANTASTIC bunch of people on staff at our church). They let me do lots out of the house, and I am there to pick up the kids after school, etc. so it has been a very easy transition for the whole family, having a working mom. We also took in a 22-year old girl this past May who is dealing with some pretty severe issues relating to her difficult past. Just last week I flew her out to a long term, residential Christian treatment center on the East Coast. She has become a part of our family and we envision a very healthy and productive future for her. God has stretched us all in many ways through this experience; again, I couldn't have imagined one year ago that we would be in any kind of position to offer this kind of help to someone. God is good!
I believe God gave me back my life for a reason (probably many reasons, which I may never know this side of heaven), and so I relish the opportunity to serve Him by crafting the children's ministry of our church, as well as encouraging lots of people who are going through their own trials with brain tumors. Not everyone has the same outcome that I did (in fact, most do not) but I can offer them encouragement, advice, empathy and my prayers. Please do not hesitate to send me names of folks that you think would appreciate having someone to talk to who has been there.
I will attempt in the coming days to attach some family photos (maybe even a movie) from this past year, mainly so you can see that all is indeed back to normal, better-than-ever, at the Montoya household! We had a one-year "Tumor Party" at my parents house this past Sept. 14 with some of the friends and family who were down there at UCLA last year for my surgery- it was a wonderful chance to remember, re-read my many cards and letters, and watch the actual surgery on DVD (edited down from the original 16 hours, of course!). I think it will be an annual event for us!
Still Praising God,
LaShawn, for the Family
2 Year Update,September, 2006
Well, time has sure flown by...I can hardly believe it's been a second year since my tumor removal on Sept. 14, 2004!I am feeling great, more energy than I've had since high schoolJ.The only physical thing I notice is where my skull plate was screwed back in.I have one of the screws wanting to poke up out of my scalp.The doctor said he can easily remove it if it breaks the surface of the skin (which it certainly will in time).I like to feel along the top of my head, following the path of the scar.My head has not come back together smoothly; lots of bumps and dips, etc..So, I figure if I ever have to have my head shaved for any reason, it's going to be a pretty awful sight.Now I not only have my surgery scar (in the shape of an "L" along the entiretop of my head), but I also have a big "Y" scar from stitches on the back of my head from an injury when I was 19, and several smaller scars all over my head from various lacerations over the years (I am not a delicate person!).I figure I can give Frankenstein a run for his money!J All that to say, I am doing very well, and I do not take life for granted. That's a wonderful thing! I am beginning my second year as the Children's Director at our church, Dave is in his 3rd year as the Adult Ministries Pastor there, and the kids are growing up so fast:Ciara is a sophomore, Ryan is in 8th and Logan started Kindergarten this fall. God is very good, all the time!Thank you for your friendship and continued interest and support in my life.