When I first met Lida and Charlie I could directly tell that they were charming people, but what I could not tell was the incredible battle they had been fighting over the past two years. Lida Dickinson lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Charlie, and has four children and numerous grand-children. In February 2010, Lida started having excruciating headaches and joked around with her co-worker that she probably had a brain tumor. Her youngest daughter, Stephanie, lives in New York City but she could tell that something was wrong. Stephanie recalls that on the phone, her mother “sounded odd and even hung up on [her].” The next day, she found out that her mother did not show up for work and was not at home either. Instead of going to work, Lida had driven herself to an urgent care center and had gotten into minor accidents on the way there and on the way back. At the medical center, they told her that she had a sinus infection and gave her some pain killers. Lida does not remember those events, but it was enough for Stephanie to show up at her mother’s house and send her to the ER at the Lehigh Valley Hospital. A CAT scan of her head revealed a brain tumor.
The news was a shock for the entire family. Stephanie recalls that she expected her mother to be suffering from some sort of depression and stomach upset, but she had a hard time accepting that her mother actually had a brain tumor. Charlie says that he did not know a single thing about brain tumors before Lida was diagnosed with one. It was on a Friday that a surgeon told them that Lida needed brain surgery. Without answering any questions, the surgeon said she would be back on Monday and left. Stephanie’s cousin, Leah, was acquainted through her husband with Dan Carr. “Dan Carr had a brain tumor resection from Dr Quinones and had only AMAZING things to say about Dr Q.” As the entire family was making research on Dr Q, they discovered that he was a world renowned surgeon with a tremendous amount of experience in this area. They were able to get Dr Q’s cell phone through Leah and that same night, around 10 pm, Dr Q was in touch with Lida’s family. The next day, he requested an ambulance to bring Lida to Hopkins; and on Wednesday, Dr Q operated on her and was able to remove 98 percent of the tumor. Pathology diagnosed a grade IV Glioma, which is one of the worst types of brain tumor.
Stephanie recalls how helpless she felt when she was living in New York City and was the only one not living near her mother. Stephanie has always had a very close relationship with her mother; they talk on the phone every single day. After Lida’s first surgery, Stephanie tried to visit a few times a week. Eventually, she concluded that she could not live away from her mother; she packed her bags and moved with her two boys to Pennsylvania. Stephanie’s husband was very supportive and would travel by train every weekend to be with them.
Four months after Lida’s surgery, she developed a high fever because of an infection at her surgical site. She went back to the local hospital where they admitted her. Stephanie sent an e-mail to Dr Quinones letting him know that her mother was in the hospital. Dr Q was on the phone with her within 10 minutes and wanted to speak to Lida’s doctors. 24 hours later, Lida was back in Baltimore under Dr Q’s supervision who determined that she would need her skull flap removed and six weeks of round the clock IV antibiotics. During that time, all four siblings made sure their mother would receive her antibiotics every 8 hours. They learned everything about PICC lines, and made sure their mother was well taken care of. They had a weekly schedule detailing who would be administering the medicine, who would bring her meals, and who would be doing her laundry.
After the surgery, Lida was accepted in a clinical trial at Duke. The doctors at Duke were impressed with Dr Quinones’ resection. In February of 2011, after an Avastin infusion, Stephanie’s sister drove Lida home. On the way back, Lida began to shake, her teeth began to chatter, and her temperature began to elevate. Stephanie’s sister eventually called 911. Lida had gone into toxic shock because of a PICC line infection. According to Lida’s family, “she had once again, cheated death.” This clinical trial lasted an entire year, and now two years after her first diagnosis, Dr Q can tell her that she has clear scans and is doing great. They were both very thankful to him and his team for saving her life and for treating them like human beings. When asked if they would have done anything differently, Lida and Charlie responded with one voice: “Nothing.” Lida’s number one advice to all brain cancer patients is to keep a positive attitude. She also emphasizes the importance of advocating for yourself and making sure what you are told is accurate. Like many patients, she believes that what makes Dr Quinones so unique is the way he treats his patients. “He treats you like a friend, talks to you like family in lay terms and shows you pictures to support his explanations” says Charlie.
Stephanie commands her mother for not even once complaining about being sick. “She has never shed a tear over her whole situation. My mom is truly an outstanding individual and I am so thankful to Dr. Quinones and his team for saving her life.” When I asked Stephanie what advice she would give to others like herself who have a loved one suffering from brain cancer, she says that one should be a good advocate for his or her loved one, find good resources, and when given a bad prognosis do not simply accept it. Every day, after putting her kids in bed, she would search more information on internet about the disease and upcoming clinical trials, sometimes until 3 AM. Perhaps, her greatest advice for the loved ones of a cancer patient is to make sure that he or she always has a strong desire to live and never stops fighting the disease. Stephanie is now pregnant with a third boy; she says that witnessing all of her siblings coming together and taking care of their mother made her want to have a larger family. The miracle is not only that Lida is alive, but also that their family ties have grown stronger and that in the end life goes on.