Kate’s Story: Years of headaches led to a shocking diagnosis

kate white in front of a bookshelfKate White, a 44-year old Grand Blanc resident and mother of three, had suffered from what she thought was stress related headaches her whole life. In May of 2019, the pain became so severe that she began taking migraine medication every morning just to get through the day. The pain persisted for more than two weeks, but she thought it was simply the stress of working full-time while pursuing her PhD in education and the recent purchase of an ice cream parlor business with her husband.

The morning of May 29, Kate went to work feeling nauseous and her vision was off. She realized she wouldn’t be able to make it through the day, so she went home to rest. The pain became worse and the next thing she remembers is waking up at Henry Ford Hospital with no memory of how she had gotten there.

A Shocking Diagnosis

Kate was surprised to learn that the night before she was unresponsive, and her care team wasn’t sure if she would make it through the night. She had been rushed from her local hospital to Henry Ford because they found a mass slightly smaller than the size of a ping pong ball in her brain. The mass was located adjacent to the main area of the brain that provides motor and sensory function for the opposite half of the body. A CT scan confirmed that it was a glioblastoma (GBM) tumor.

group of people at library
Kate and her librarian friends, who were some of her biggest support throughout.
“This type of tumor is infiltrative by nature and is difficult to contain,” says Adam Robin, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Henry Ford Health System. “Long-term survivors of glioblastoma are rare, but there are several factors to be considered, including the underlying biology of the tumor and the amount of benefit we can provide with surgery.”

 

“I was just so grateful that my pain had subsided for the moment, that I don’t think I understood what the diagnosis really meant,” says Kate. “The weight of everything began to set in when I was told the next steps - steroids to reduce swelling, surgery to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment - with not much time to prepare myself and my family.”

Faith in a Team She Could Trust

Dr. Robin and his team performed an awake craniotomy 8 days after Kate’s diagnosis. The awake procedure was chosen to maximize function following the procedure. In addition, she was a candidate for 5-ALA, also known as the “pink drink”, which makes the tumor glow, so it is easier to resect.

kate white with providers
Kate with her care team, Dr. Adam Robin, Lisa Scarpace, Dr. Vrushali Dabak and Dr. Jim Snyder.
“Kate’s surgery included what is known as a gross total resection (GTR) of the tumor,” says Dr. Robin. “We were also able to get a larger margin around the tumor to remove as many infiltrating tumor cells as possible. This helped to ensure a more successful long-term outcome for Kate.”

Surprisingly, Kate was not fearful before or during her surgery. “Everyone kept me calm by talking to me during the 7-hour procedure,” says Kate. “I just stayed focused on their words, and I knew I was in good hands, so didn’t feel nearly as nervous.”

After surgery, Kate underwent six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy under the direction of Mira Shah, radiation oncologist at Henry Ford Hospital. She is currently in the process of receiving an additional 12-month maintenance chemotherapy treatment overseen by Vrushali Dabak, M.D., a medical oncologist at Henry Ford Hospital and James Snyder, D.O., a Henry Ford neuro-oncologist. 

Back on Track After a Brave Fight

group of people at charity walk
Kate at the Head for the Cure run on Belle Isle.

Her road to recovery hasn’t been easy, but Kate is finally back to work full-time and is feeling like herself again. She suffered from short-term memory loss after the surgery and wasn’t sure if she would have the cognitive abilities and stamina to continue her work as a doctoral student, but with the support of her professors, colleagues, family, and friends, she is back in school to complete the PhD she started before her diagnosis. Kate and her husband opened their ice cream parlor this spring without missing a beat.

Kate says, “In all sincerity, I owe Dr. Robin my life. I am positive that I am here today to tell my story because of the fast action and outstanding treatment provided by my Henry Ford care team.” 

“This experience has made me much more empathetic and grateful to be alive,” says Kate. “If my story can offer hope, optimism, and the willingness to be brave in the fight, then I feel like I am giving back to those who’ve cared for me, those who are on this journey with me, as well as those diagnosed after me.”

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