Christi (Keelin) Pascual, center, is surrounded by her family, from left, sons Brayden, 14, and Chase, 22, her husband, David, her daughter, Madison, 19, and she is holding son, Cole, 7. A benefit is planned Saturday at James Valley Christian School for Christi Pascual, who was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
Huron native Christi (Keelin) Pascual of Murrieta, Calif., is keeping a positive attitude about the rare, but slow growing brain tumor doctors discovered — with hopes that long-term chemotherapy treatments will shrink the lemon-sized mass and allow surgeons to remove it.
A benefit for Pascual is planned Saturday at James Valley Christian School, with a carnival for kids from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; a silent auction and bake sale starting at 3:30 p.m., a pork loin supper beginning at 5 p.m.; and a live auction at 7 p.m.
Also, raffle tickets are on sale now at Touch of Country, Dakotaland FCU and Wipf Radiator Repair. Items to be raffled are two $100 Carlson’s gas cards and one Henry Big Boy 357 Magnum Lever Action Rifle.
Supporting funds will be provided through Beadle County Chapter Thrivent Financial Lutheran.
An account has also been opened in Pascual’s name at Wells Fargo Bank. For more information or to volunteer to help at the fundraiser, please call Lisa Johnson at 350-4732, Janelle Butler at 354-2643 or Melanie Wipf at 350-7778.
Pascual is the daughter of Huron natives Janelle Butler and Bob Keelin. She lives in Murrieta with her husband, David, and their blended family of four children: Chase, 22, a senior at Arizona State University; Madison, 19, a sophomore in Grand Valley State in Michigan; Brayden, 14; and Cole, 7.
Pascual and her husband are both high school teachers in Murietta, she teaches math, and he teaches chemistry and biology.
She said she initially went to her family doctor last fall because she had been having headaches and couldn’t make them go away.
“For many months they thought I’d had a stroke,” Pascual said. “I had an MRI in December. They said it’s either a stroke or a tumor, but they didn’t believe it was a tumor because it didn’t have a blood supply.”
She was sent to a stroke specialists, who referred her to a tumor specialist, who decided it couldn’t be a tumor and sent her back to the stroke specialist for more tests.
“Each specialist pointed a finger at the other — slightly humorous, but unsettling,” Pascual added.
“Mine is extremely rare, they assumed it wasn’t a tumor,” she said. “It took many months to figure out what to do with me. They did a biopsy in April. That’s when I received a diagnosis; and then the ordeal of trying to figure out how to treat it.”
Her tumor is called an oligodendroglioma (oligo) brain tumor, a rare type of tumor comprising only 2 percent of primary brain tumors.
“I have never felt so fortunate to be odd because an oligo is a slow-growing tumor and my prognosis is as good as it gets for a brain tumor patient,” said Pascual, who is 43. “Given its rate of growth, my doctors estimate that this tumor has been slowly growing since I was a teenager.”
Pascual graduated from high school in Huron in 1987.
Pascual said doctors were anxious to get her started on radiation treatments, but she was skeptical of the long-term effects associated with this treatment.
“It bothered me that radiation causes long-term, irreversible cognitive deficits that are cumulative as time passes,” she said. “It also troubled me when I discovered that a patient can only receive one 28-day treatment of radiation to the brain because additional treatments cause brain damage that is too severe.
“What really surprised me is that my doctors made an appointment for me to receive radiation without discussing the options with me first,” Pascual added.
“To top it off, the radiation would be performed at a facility that I was very uncomfortable with,” she said. “Their equipment was old and their reputation was questionable. When I asked why, I was told that this facility had submitted the lowest bid for the procedure — the joy of an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization).”
Working through an HMO insurance plan also slowed down her treatments. “Every time you go someplace you had to get a referral,” she said. “It was quite a process and delaying the treatment.
Pascual changed her insurance to a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) in July, which means she can make her own decisions and is no longer forced into a treatment plan determined by the HMO.
Switching insurance also meant meeting a new deductible and more out-of-pocket expenses. “We met the deductible with my first cycle of chemo,” Pascual said.
“It’s been an ordeal, but an awakening,” she said. “Until you become sick, you don’t realize how expensive it is to be sick.”
Pascual said she began seeing Dr. Keith Black at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles last spring. It was good news to hear him suggest chemotherapy as a way to shrink the tumor to surgically remove it.
“I have MRIs every three months to monitor it,” Pascual said. “They actually decided to do the first one after two months — the tumor had not shrunk in size at all, but had decreased in density. I won’t have another MRI until around New Years, then we’ll hope that it decreases in size.
“If there’s no decrease in size, we’ll have to stop the chemo, it won’t be working,” she said. “But I’m hoping that it shrinks and we can do surgery. After surgery, there would be another treatment series to get rid of the rest of the cancer cells.”
Pascual said the chemo treatments are administered in cycles of 28 days each, beginning each cycle with five days of taking chemo pills. While she is tolerating the treatments fairly well, there are days when she is weak and nauseous, and it has affected her blood counts making her more susceptible to catching colds and flu.
“My blood work went through the floor,” she said. “My counts are so low I can’t travel. I can’t be around people. I can’t even come back for my benefit.”
The reason her tumor was undetected for so long is because it is located in an area that they refer to as a silent area.
“My tumor overlaps the occipital and parietal regions on the left side of my brain,” she said. “Other than headaches, I have not had symptoms to indicate that I have a tumor.“
She’s unable to have surgery on the tumor because it would result in significant loss of motor skills because of how it has grown into the motor center of her brain.
Pascual said 50 to 70 percent of people who have an oligo do not have chromosomes 1p or 19q (considered a co-deletion), which increases their prognosis to 12 years; while those who have those chromosomes have a prognosis of only three to four years.
“Fortunately, I am missing these chromosomes so my prognosis is the longest period of time for a brain tumor patient — 12 years,” she said.
“Thankfully my husband and I are well educated and can do our own research,” Pascual added. “No one tells you anything, which has been unnerving and upsetting.”
Pascual said the doctors look at any treatment as a something that could “buy time.”
“When they first used the expression ‘buy me time’ it was quite bothersome to me, but maybe it shouldn’t be,” she said. “My situation is what it is. If doctors can give me more time, then I will be grateful. I was so happy and grateful to find a treatment plan that I am comfortable with.”
Her family has been dealing with her diagnosis and chemo treatments. It helps that she still looks healthy, Pascual said.
“There’s only one chemo drug to treat a brain tumor,” she said. “You don’t lose your hair with that.
“We’ve taken this very positively. There’s a lot of hope, lots to be thankful for,” Pascual said. “I’m at peace with what’s happening because I have complete trust that God will bring me through it. God allows us to go through difficult times — it helps mold us for exactly what he wants for us.”For the complete article see the 11-04-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-04-2012 paper.