Looking back, the first realization of bad news was the day our Neurologist called me and told me that our son had a mass in his brain. I was so scared I nearly lost my mind and felt like I had a literal fist in my gut. That isn't news that you should have to hear over the phone and our journey since that day has changed immensely along the way but that original worry is still there.
At that time, we were told by a world reknown brain surgeon that the mass (cystic pineal tumor) would require one of the most dangerous types of brain surgery to remove. However, the risks vs the rewards of removing it at the time were too high and although he warned us it would cause him to have seizures, we were nervous and relieved to hear that we needed to wait for "worsening neurological symptoms" to occur before they would remove it. When we visited the Children's Hospital in our own state and we shared our concerns regarding said neurological symptoms and the three hour drive to get to their facility we were told "that's what helicopters are for".
Our friends have thrown fund-raisers for us to help us save money for Abram. One lovely lady even shaved her head in his honor and to see the support we had from our friends when we needed it most was the most uplifting part of this entire journey. No matter what we are going through, we have an amazing outpour of support from our friends, our family and our community here at home and online in the special needs community as well.
For the longest time, I thought that if we got that mass out of his head, he would be "fine". Alas, our journey has taken us on a different path entirely and I know now (or have come to terms with the fact) that Abram's case is so much MORE than a pineal cyst and that part of his diagnosis is truly a symptom of his actual diagnosis - the UBE2A Deficiency Syndrome. We cannot "fix" or "cure" what is going on in Abram's brain as I once hoped that we would be able to do. There is more going on in his brain with grey matter where it shouldn't be, atrophied hippocampus, suspected mesial temporal sclerosis, etc that cannot be fixed with surgery.
With what is commonly referred to as an "incidental finding" with a pineal cyst has become an annual (or even more often) issue of putting our son under a sedated/intubated MRI, kissing him goodbye and hoping that the anesthesia doesn't have a bad impact on his seizures. He had a really hard time coming out of it the last time, so this time - no cannabis in the morning of the MRI to see if that makes a difference.
Anyhow, after our journey to Mayo last summer, I thought that after they had found so much other stuff going on within Abram's brain tissue that the pineal cyst would be the least of our worries. Yet, when I specifically asked the Mayo Clinic why we were needing a follow-up MRI this fall - it was literally the pineal cyst that they want to check up on. Specifically to see if it needs "Neurosurgical intervention". Reading that made my stomach sink a little. I knew deep down that it needs to be watched. What they said would be a "slow grower" had doubled in size. What used to be a perfectly round cyst is now shaped like a kidney bean because it is getting squished in the anatomy of his brain as it grows. It makes me nervous. It scares me. I don't like it.
But I'm so thankful to have a Hospital that acknowledges it, that wants to follow it and that cares enough to make sure that our son's brain is OKAY. There are so many others with a pineal cystic tumors who are ignored, ridiculed and made to feel that they are mentally ill. They are told that this cannot possibly impact their quality of life but those doctors are wrong. We have sought opinions from individuals across the country from NYU, to Barrows Neurological Institute to Mayo and more.
These masses sit right in the center of the brain and press on parts in the deepest recesses of the organ that should never be touched. Sensitivity to light, sound, migraines, seizures, hydrocephalus, Parinaud's Syndrome and more are just a few of the things that can be affected by it.
Sleep is something that has eluded Abram since he was a tiny baby - as the pineal gland regulates melatonin and sleep - it isn't much of a surprise. It's just hard that here we are four years later and he still has never slept through the night. It's hard to know it's there and on his bad days it's hard not to jump to conclusions and worry that something bad is about to happen.
So, the second week in September, we journey back to MN to check in on the mass in our son's brain and to touch base with Sleep Medicine again. The thought of the MRI gives me anxiety but the thought of not watching it is even scarier.
It's hard watching your child never know what it's like to have a good night's sleep. Even the prescribed psychoactive benzodiazepines that our Neuro prescribed for his seizures would allow for him to have a full night's rest. I've learned how to live my life as if I have a newborn every night. I can't imagine how that must feel for Abram - to never have had a full night's sleep.... to never go more than 2-3 hours without waking up screaming.
I wish it were easier for Abram. But I will take these months of seizure-freedom and be proud and happy for him. I've learned to just roll with the punches and take things in tiny baby steps as they come. Worrying made me miss out on so much of his baby-hood. I'm not missing out on his toddler days worrying about what could be. If/when he needs to have brain surgery - we will deal with when it comes. And I know that our friends and family will have our backs 199%.
We finally made it to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota last week. I must once again thank everyone for the help they sent our way in the spring so we were able to afford to stay out-of-town while our son needed to be in appointments throughout the Mayo Campus for the last week.
We FINALLY have an extensive medical team standing behind us and for us. The level of care and compassion at Mayo compared to anywhere in Iowa was beyond any expectations that we had. We did not get good news but it was news we needed to know and it is never easy to hear unexpected results after your child undergoes his fifth sedated MRI at just over 3 years of age.
In the last 7 days we met with a new Neurologist, Neurosurgeon, a Geneticist, a Genetic Counselor, a Genetic Researcher, a new Developmental Pediatrician, ENT and Sleep Medicine Physician. My son had to endure an MRI with lumbar puncture, multiple blood draws and a 16-point sleep study and another Video EEG in the last week.
They used a different kind of MRI machine on Abram in Minnesota called a 3 Tesla. (You can read about it here.) Basically, this MRI takes thousands of images in comparison to the hundreds that are taken here. Which means a clearer picture of what is going on within Abram's brain, literally.
Sadly, they found that in addition to the Pineal Cyst they have also discovered that Abram's brain has multiple abnormalities. It turns out that while he was developing, some of the gray matter in his brain did not "migrate" out to the outside of his brain. So, he has certain types of brain matter within the white matter of his brain that is not supposed to be there and he also has grey matter within his cerebellum.
These changes are what they feel are causing Abram's seizures causing him nearly all of his issues including his inability to retain language. They are not sure if he will ever be able to speak but they aren't ruling it out, either. So in that way, we will just keep on doing what we have been doing and immersing him with as much therapy and outside help that we can get. We FINALLY have an SCL and Respite Team that we adore and are working TOGETHER to do the best for Abram.
We also have been advised to do a Full Exome Genetic Test. In doing so, it will check all of Abram's Genes and see if there are any abnormalities that the three of us don't share. From there, they can try to narrow it down even more if they happen to catch something. We have joined Mayo's Research Study so any testing that happens after the Full Exome will be covered in full in trade for our DNA.
Many people don't understand the point in doing this sort of testing but this is what they need to understand: Genetic Testing is not to figure our what is "wrong" with our child. It is not to be used to point fingers at which parent a child got handed down a gene from. This is about how to prepare for our son's future. This has the potential of not only possibly catching something to help Abram live the best life but it also has the potential to help other families who come after us. Abram's story, diagnoses and genetics has the great chance of helping another child and another family know what to expect. This is about doing what is best for Abram. If they don't find an answer - so be it. If we find a causative gene - we can help pave the way on how to best prepare a family with a similar diagnosis.
The EEG found that his brain fires all of the time from all over the place, due to the fact that he has grey matter where it shouldn't be. There is no surgical fix for that type of seizure so it is something he was born with and will always have.
In addition, the feel that the pineal cyst is significant and want us to get another scan in 6 months. I was hoping that this would be the last time they would tell me it was "incidental" and "not causing any issues" and we could go on with it. It just sucks is that the reality of it is that it requires constant monitoring. And constant worries about the effects of the Anesthesia on our son.
The best news was that when I shared that my son was on CBD and had been 9 weeks seizure free they all didn't look the least bit shocked and were pleased to see that it was working. It was even referred to as an "innocuous drug" and without side effects.
I was told that there was NO NEED for the change in meds (in addition to his Clonazepam) and that if nothing's broke - you don't fix it.
CBD has given my son the first summer in his life where he was able to enjoy it. He laughed more. He loved more. He got to be a little boy for the first time in his life.
He got to run the first time and get a skinned knee at his Grandpa's. He got to go to the splash pad and have fun with other kids. He got to go to the play area at the mall for the first time ever without hightailing it for the car because it was too overwhelming.
We didn't get the answers we wanted but we got the ones we needed. I officially know that I am doing all that I can for my son. We officially have a TEAM of medical sub specialists who are willing to help us and take care of our medically complex boy.
Hi! I'm Erin. I am a single mom, tireless advocate for UBE2a Deficiency Syndrome and a fierce proponent for medical cannabis.