This particular business trip in December 2006 was to be my last of that year, but as it turned out, it could very well have been my last for a very long time. I had traveled the world as a commercial airplane marketing and sales director for cabin interior equipment for over 20 uneventful travel years.
I was in Paris on this trip and had met with my airline customers, closing a very important company deal and handing out small Christmas gifts. I got back to my hotel that Friday afternoon exhausted. I mustered up the energy to go for a four-mile run that usually revitalizes me, then returned to my room and packed for the following morning’s flight back home.
I couldn’t keep my eyes open another second and decided to take a quick nap. I awakened at some point—it was dark outside, Europe in winter is always dark — day or night. The clock on the television flared “9:00” in red. I panicked. My wristwatch alarm and a wake-up call were to have rousted me out of bed at 5 a.m. to catch a bus to the airport. I had to catch a cab instead, which I promptly did.
Then something clicked. I asked the driver what time it was, and he responded that it was “9”. I asked him if that was morning or night. He simply looked outside into the darkness, looked at me over his right shoulder like I was whacko, and said, “night,” followed by, “crazy American.” I had only slept a short while back at the hotel.
I wanted to continue on to the airport and just go home, so I instructed the driver to carry on. Little did I realize that CDG had nothing to offer passengers in the middle of the night—even the club lounges I was counting on were closed. I ended up spending the entire night jockeying for good places to sleep.
Why I didn’t elect to spend the night back at the hotel and city? Later, why didn’t I take a Hyatt hotel shuttle that passed the airport about 40 times and would have taken me to a cozy and very nice hotel at CDG? No, I stayed and suffered at the airport. Now I had a clue that my thinking was clouded.
I finally made my flight the next morning, sleeping the entire way. When back in the States, I returned to work just to check in. My colleagues said I looked pretty haggard. My left shoulder kept bumping into door thresholds. I was feeling very nauseous and went home. It was possible I caught a travel flu, but that would be very unusual for me.
I went home and told my wife that I wasn’t feeling well. She noticed the left side of my mouth was sagging a bit. She encouraged me to call my doctor with whom I eventually met a couple of days later. My physician thought it could have been the flu, but she said, “You know, now that I’m looking at you, I’m telling myself, ‘This isn’t the Ken I know. The left side of your face is slightly sagging’.” She diagnosed my symptoms and declared that I possibly had the lightest form of Bell’s Palsy that she had seen.
I looked back and recollected that before I departed on the trip, I experienced some unusual occurrences. I had contacted my IT guy at work and reported that my keyboard was malfunctioning. He asked what was happening and I explained that I kept checking my fingers to see if they were in the wrong “home position” because I was making too many typing errors. I had taken a bad spill tight roping a curb in a parking lot. My wife voiced her concern to my doctor that my personality had changed a few months back. My daughter proclaimed that when I drove, I had a tendency to pull the car to the left. Each of these instances taken separately, and one can easily cast them aside. But collectively, they tell a story.
All this was reported to my doctor, who came to the conclusion that a brain MRI was necessary. The radiologist diagnosed what she saw as a glioblastoma encapsulated by a cyst. This was confirmed by later surgery and analysis. It was located in the temporal lobe behind my right eye. Mine was a grade 4, the worst, but luckily it was in an accessible location. A few days later, both were removed successfully by my neurosurgeon, Ian Ross, MD, who performed a right craniotomy, behind my right eye, to remove the tumor.
I was 57 years old, had been in relatively pretty good health all my life and had been a runner since age 26. I once ran every day—averaging 5.3 miles per day—for nine months and change until an injury stopped the streak. Even today at age 58 after an annual physical, my doctor boasted that if it weren’t for the tumor that had been removed, I’d be in perfect health.
When and how was I predisposed to this aggressive tumor? After my surgery, I tortured myself as I would imagine a lot patients do. What did I do to myself to cause this? Did I drink too much? Was it the ’60s? Was it that construction project I did? Was it running in all those polluted big cities around the world and in Los Angeles where I live?
My surgeon advised that the tumor was probably not caused by environmental conditions and that something just triggered cells that we all have present in our brains that mutate — it was just bad luck. We all have astrocyctes in the brain. As far as what causes normal astrocyctes to mutate and become cancerous is an area of intensive study.
After the surgery I was referred to consult with the UCLA Neuro-Oncology Program who specialize in head cases—and I certainly qualified as a head case. The UCLA group set a course of treatment that in network insurance agreed with consisting of Temodar taken daily in concurrence with radiation.
I rested two weeks after that regimen and then we kicked up the chemotherapy treatment to a five-day/28-day cycle with an increased dosage ofTemodar and a 23-day off period (five days on, 23 off). We are targeting 24 cycles if my body tolerates it. I just completed cycle 15.
I consider myself fortunate in a number of ways. The tumor was accessible, and the surgeon was skillful enough to remove what he could. So far, the radiation I had, the Temodar treatments I have had and will continue to have, have kept me around.
I recently have been asked — and have agreed — to participate in a UCLA research on “Molecular Generic Characterization of Human Brain Tumors” at the UCLA School of Medicine, Reed Neurological Research Center, Los Angeles.
There is no cure for what I had removed from me, but I hope to be around a long time to be with my family and help participate in future studies and to help those in the future.
KEN KHTEIAN has been a La Cañada resident with his wife and daughter for 14 years. He is presently semi-retired and stays busy reading, writing, and doing odd jobs around the house.