We entered Dr. Pang’s office at the Sacramento Kaiser on a Tuesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. fully intending to strategize with the neurosurgeon on how to remove the tumor that was in Jackie’s head. Dr. Pang physically examined Jackie by looking into her eyes, ears and throat. He listened to her heartbeat and tapped her knees to check reflexes. If you looked at Jackie she appeared completely normal. A nurse then came and took Jackie into the waiting room and played with her while we talked with the doctor. Dr. Pang began by showing us Jackie’s MRI x-ray. With our own eyes we witnessed what looked like a golf ball in our daughter’s brain. Dr. Pang pointed out the exact location of the tumor. The tumor was located at the base of her brain and lodged in her brainstem. It was an aggressive fast growing tumor that he said probably wasn’t even in her head three months ago. He explained that it was a brain stem glioma tumor. A glioma is a type of cancer that starts in the brain or spine. It is called a glioma because it arises from glial cells. Brain stem tumors are rare and account for only 10 percent of pediatric brain tumors. Brain stem tumors are usually found in children under 10 and adults over 40. The peak incidence is between ages 5 and 10.
We weren’t prepared for what was coming next. After viewing the X-ray we asked Dr. Pang if he could remove the tumor. He said he couldn’t even biopsy it much less remove it because it of it’s location in the brainstem. He went on to say that at five years old Jackie was too young for chemotherapy but that they might try radiation to shrink the tumor. I asked, “What does this mean?” He said, “Your daughter is going to die in the next two to three months.” I then asked, “Will she suffer?” He didn’t say a word. He just looked at us and nodded his head up and down signifying that yes indeed she would experience suffering in the process. Words cannot express the emotions that Carrie and I felt at that moment. Tears ran down our cheeks as we looked at each other in shock. We felt like we had been slam dunked!