On Brain Tumors

I’m very sad to hear about Senator Kennedy’s malignant glioma, because I’ve unfortunately watched a man go through it before. The most common type, unfortunately, is also the worst, and it’s not a pretty process.

When I was in high school, I was interested in a jazz and media program at the local university. My piano teacher, who didn’t have any experience playing or teaching jazz, arranged for me to get private lessons with the jazz piano prof, John Emche. John was a sweet guy, very friendly and generous with his time.

After a few months of lessons, I knocked on his door as usual and he opened it, clearly woozy and with the lights out. He was sorry, he said, he had been sleeping because of some muscle relaxants the doctor had given him for a sudden series of debilitating headaches. The next time he had forgotten to cancel the lesson and was somewhat confused.

Then I learned he had a brain tumor and was getting surgery. The next time I saw him he was bald with scars on his head from the surgery. He was clearly much better, though his eyesight had been affected. But in a couple of months he was confused again and would drift back and forth. After that he quit teaching while he got radiation treatment.

It looked hopeful for a while, but I never had another lesson with him. Apparently the doctors determined, as is usual, that it had spread and there was little else they could do. So they quit treating him, let him regain his strength, and he and his wife went on a cruise together while he was still functional enough. Apparently it was good for both of them to relax and enjoy something together.

Very soon thereafter, he passed away. The whole process took about a year from what I recall (bear in mind this was 22 years ago). Now fortunately for Senator Kennedy, he has more resources and, more importantly in the world of medicine, more influence to ensure he’s not in the control group of an experimental study. But  depending on the severity and type of tumor, he could be gone very soon.

Whatever you may think of someone or their politics, it’s a frightening prospect, hard on them and their loved ones, and I really hope the outcome is better for him. But the odds are not good, and I don’t wish that on anybody. One small consolation is that Senator Kennedy had a good long life until this point. John Emche was in his thirties–this disease doesn’t really care who you are or what you’re like. And John Emche was a great guy who deserved more time with us.

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2 Responses to On Brain Tumors

  1. Bill huber says:

    John directed the b band jazz lab ensemble at ohio state in my freshman and sophomore year 77 to 79 at osu. John was such a warm great musician, composer , and director. That’s how the b band beat the a band in our own college jazz festival. Under John’s leadership the b band would show up was ver competitive wherever we played. I’m trying figure out when John passed. Thanks

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