She was getting ready for bed at about 10 p.m., when she began feeling dizzy and lightheaded. And that was that.
The next morning, Kami Combes woke up as if nothing had happened. Except that her husband was home. Her children were up and home. Her parents were in the living room.
“They said you have to go to the doctor,” she recalled.
This was in March of 2007, Combes was 32. She first went to the Swedish Clinic on Queen Anne Avenue North and then was directed to Swedish on First Hill. There she was given an MRI and went home with instructions to return the next day. The following day doctors announced that she had a tumor in her brain roughly the size of a pea. But it was in the middle of her brain. Hard to get to. The subsequent biopsy showed the pea was cancerous. Stage 2 and progressing.
In June the operation to remove the tumor commenced. Doctors were able to remove it without damaging Combes’ brain. Directly after the surgery came the six weeks of radiation. Similar to the MRI, Combes was immobilized. She wore a mask that was pinned down around her head to help keep her face still.
Then came the chemotherapy, sickly and gutwrenching. Four pills a day for five days, then a 25-day break. Then repeat for five more months.
“I got super sick from that,” Combes said from her home in Queen Anne. “Lots of people get tired, I got sick.” The first few days were the worst she said.
Her parents, who live near Seattle Pacific University, took her into their home and took care of her. Combes’ husband, meanwhile, took care of the kids and worked. Bills were piling up, but “we were lucky to have good insurance,” Combes said with an audible sigh. By February of 2008, after the operation, the radiation, the chemotherapy, the vomiting and slight hair loss, it was over. The diagnosis was good, doctors said. To this day she continues to get the occasional MRI, but there has been no sign of cancer, only gratitude.
Combes, since then, has been making the annual pilgrimage that is the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk, a national event that raises awareness of brain cancer and raises funds to pay for brain cancer research and comprehensive care for patients and their families in the Pacific Northwest. The first two years saw the walk take place on Mercer Island. Now it’s at the Seattle Center. Today is the last day to register.
The money raised from the walk will go right to paying for research – research that has already seen results. The Ivy Brain Tumor Center at Swedish, in collaboration with Accium Biosciences, leveraged $50,000 from the 2008 Brain Cancer Walk and another $180,000 from the National Cancer Institute to use Accium’s 15-ton particle accelerator. The device analyzes tumor tissue to figure out how much of a chemotherapy drug reaches its target. The information can improve individual patient’s care by discovering medications that are and are not working. The technology didn’t exist when Combes was diagnosed. Knowing that its presence is in part due to funds from the walk has inspired her to keep walking. And this year an anonymous donor contributed $500,000 to the cause.
“Not all can do it,” Combes said of the walk, during which she and other survivors wear green shirts. “But you can go and meet other people and kids can come. A lot of people who had surgery can’t [do the walk] but are there.” The funds raised, Combes added, allows for more research to take place, “and that’s pretty incredible.”
The walk takes place this Saturday. Click here to register.