Zebras, not horses.

By Julie

Brain tumors can be very tricky to diagnose. The most common symptoms suffered by those who will ultimately be diagnosed with a brain cancer vary from person to person in quantity and severity, and are almost always indicative of something other than a tumor. Even though Web MD seems to be convinced we all have cancer, most physicians think horses, not zebras, when they hear hoof beats. Brain tumors are definitely zebras.

Awareness campaigns for zebras can be very tricky. There is no test for brain tumors that you can self-administer in the shower, and if you run to your doctor every time you have a brain tumor symptom—which can include headaches, nausea, forgetfulness, communication challenges, balance issues, fatigue, etc.—you may be labeled a hypochondriac (and because your odds of getting a brain tumor are so slim the label, in all likelihood, would be deserved).

In Travis’ case his symptoms were all personality and communication related. There were no headaches, no seizures, no vision changes, there was just something about him that was different. I chalked it up to a mid-life crisis and he attributed it all to stress, but overtime those “differences” became more pronounced and we could no longer ignore that there was something truly wrong. Even then, we were both confident that we would find we were dealing with a horse, not a zebra.

Raising awareness for brain cancer is not about saving the masses, it’s about giving hope to the few unlucky ones who will be touched by this devastating diagnosis.

Approximately 17,000 adults and children will be lost to brain cancer in 2017. In comparison to those who are lost to more common types of cancer that we are made “aware” of through other campaigns, the number seems small. But these 17,000 will leave behind unfinished business and unaccomplished life goals that they put off thinking they had more time. They will leave behind jobs where they were making a positive change in the world. They will leave behind family members and friends who love them and will grieve because they know the world was a better place when their loved one was in it.

Brain cancer awareness efforts are almost entirely focused on raising funds to support research. Breakthroughs in research result in new treatments and therapies that can increase long term survival and improve quality of life for brain cancer patients. Don’t wait until the fight becomes personal; take steps today to aid in the battle against brain cancer.

How can I help?

  • Stay informed and become an advocate for neuroscience research. Contact your congressional representatives and tell them how important funding research through the National Institute of Heath and other bodies is to you and others. The Society of Neuroscience provides resources on how to stay politically active here: http://www.sfn.org/advocacy/advocacy-network
  • Donate or raise funds for organizations that conduct important brain cancer research including Dana-Farber. Join our walk team or make a contribution: www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2017/teamwolverine
  • Take control of your health, know your own body and become your own personal advocate. Find a medical professional who you trust and who does not dismiss your health concerns. Whether you ultimately find you are dealing with a horse or that you are afflicted with the more rare zebra diagnosis, your health matters and you should feel comfortable discussing and exploring any change to your body or mind that concerns you.
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