Part 2: Signs of hope
Editor’s note: This is the third part of an occasional series on Dianne Young, the Bolton High School yearbook sponsor who learned in April that she has a rare form of brain cancer.
It was the news Dianne Young was hoping for.
On the morning of July 8, the mother of two returned to the place where her cancer journey began. She was scheduled for a follow-up MRI. This would be the first time since Dianne’s diagnosis that her doctors would get a chance to see if radiation and chemotherapy treatments were working.
Dianne and her family and friends had been praying for a miracle. Going into the test, they all asked questions.
Could it be possible that the four malignant tumors she had in April were smaller? Could this deadly disease — that doctors said was particularly aggressive in her case — have disappeared?
Then, they got their answers. Call the results a miracle, or perhaps a miracle of modern medicine. It seemed at least some of their prayers had been answered.
“The largest (tumor) shrank by about a third,” said a tired yet excited Dianne.
Two of the other tumors shrank, too. One of those was too small to measure.
The fourth? It was gone entirely.
“They’re excited,” said Dianne about her doctors just three days after the scan. “They’ve upped my chemo pills, and now the Cyberknife isn’t out of the question.”
In Dianne’s case, that’s huge. The surgery wasn’t an option for the 45-year-old Bolton High School English teacher and yearbook sponsor when she learned of her illness this spring. It’s a victory in the face of Glioblastoma, a disease that has a median survival rate of 4 ½ months.
And yet, the news almost doesn’t phase Dianne. From the beginning, she has taken the approach that life will carry on regardless of what the doctors have said is growing in her head.
“It’s business as usual,” said Dianne, who was waiting for a flight to Dallas to attend a yearbook convention when she reported the MRI results.
But she is a little more tired than she did just a month ago. Following a family vacation to Florida, Dianne found herself worn out from the “frenzy” of getting ready to go. Even that’s a change from when she was first diagnosed. At that time, her doctor had to give her medication to help her sleep.
“I have been burning it up,” said Dianne last month. “Which is the exact opposite of what I thought I’d be doing.
“I had always been a big, giant sleeper. Huge sleeper,” she said. “I loved my naps.”
Instead of sleeping the energetic Dianne found herself going from one end of the house to the other trying to get things more organized.
For example, her boys
Jake, 12, and Justin, 10 — had always shared a bedroom. Now they don’t. New kitchen cabinets had arrived just before the diagnosis and were stacked, all ready to go, out in the barn. Now, thanks to help from the fathers of local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and her husband, Robert, they have been installed.
“Basically, they are going through and trying to get things in order,” said Kristen Kellum, a fellow teacher of Dianne’s and close friend. “They’re getting the 'chi' of the house kind of in order, so the house is peaceful.”
Planning ahead when so much is unknown has become a new normal for Dianne and her family. Robert has been unemployed for several years. He left the sales industry and went back to school with plans to become a teacher. Now, he’s been told he won’t be hired by the new Shelby County Schools unified school district. He can’t even reapply until 2014.
“So, not only are we dealing with this, we’re dealing with my husband’s unemployment,” said Dianne. “In case something happens to me, he’s got to have to have a job to support our two boys.”
It’s also been a time of other unwelcome surprises. Unable to drive, Dianne relies on people such as Kristen to take her to doctor visits and other appointments. She also recently found out one of her sons has temporomandibular joint disorder. And she doesn’t know how much of her treatments will be covered by insurance.
“At this point, the expenses are … well, it just is what it is,” said Dianne.
The one thing Dianne is determined to control is her own future. She’s determined to go back to teaching — no matter what.
“I’m going back in the fall,” she said. “That’s my decision.”
Even still, Dianne plans to lighten the load so she’s not overwhelmed. She won’t be teaching ninth grade English this year; only the 12th grade British literature she loves. She’s getting help to put out the yearbook. And with new curricular standards this year, she plans on taking a lot of notes.
“I’ve taught 12th grade English for so many years that I think it’s going to be OK,” said Dianne.
For her yearbook classes, Dianne is falling back on a plan that she and the school have been putting together for years. A teacher who does graphic media now is going to help with design, while one of the school librarians will work with writers and photographers.
“Only on days when I have appointments,” said Dianne quickly about her intentions to be the primary yearbook sponsor. “I don’t know who will do my sales though. I have to figure that one out.”
She also figures that most of the teachers will be in the same place she is because of the new curricula: They’ll all be learning something new as they go. Dianne hopes the notes she keeps will help her keep track of things.
“Even when I write it down, I may not have enough information to know what it is that I wrote down,” said Dianne of her notes. “So, I will have to have people double-check them.”
Meanwhile, she said, she will continue to focus on the positive signs of improvement. Dianne said she believes she can beat this cancer and said the recent MRI is proof of that.
“That’s what I believe is going to happen,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it, but that’s what I believe is going to happen.”
To be continued…