PLATTSBURGH — When Pattie Fulton called a family meeting, everyone knew something was seriously wrong.The Fultons are a close-knit group, and even though Pattie's children are all adults, they stay in close touch. But a "family meeting" was reserved for very special events, and historically they have not always been for upbeat news."They knew something was definitely wrong," Pattie said of her family's reaction to the special gathering, noting that other meetings had been called when both her husband, Ken, and her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.This was the most unexpected of announcements, however. Doctors had identified a brain tumor in the family's youngest child, 24-year-old Kim."It all happened so fast," Pattie recalled of the day she first learned of Kim's condition. "She told me, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, what do we do?'"As a parent, it's the worst thing imaginable. You feel so helpless. You want to take away the pain, whether your child's 2 or 10 or 24."
Sitting in her apartment living room with a wall of family photographs behind her, Kim listened intently as her mother described those frightening moments just a little more than a half year ago.A plaque, placed amongst the collection of family remembrances, described in simple words the way Kim has dealt with this unexpected but all-too-real dilemma: "Faith, Family, Friends."It was early August last summer when Kim and her brother, Chris, were spending a fun day together tubing. Kim took a serious tumble and hit her head hard against the water's surface."After that, there was a stretch of three weeks straight that I was having headaches," Kim recalled. "My mom told me I should go to the doctor, but I kept saying, 'No, no, it will go away.' I just thought it was connected to jarring my head while tubing."
Working as a physical-therapy assistant at CVPH Medical Center, Kim noticed that she was having difficulty keeping her thoughts straight and mentioned it to her patients. Realizing that something was indeed wrong, she decided to have it checked out.Her doctor ordered a CAT scan for Sept. 11, which revealed some kind of contusion in the brain, so she underwent a follow-up MRI. Those results confirmed that a brain tumor had developed.Doctors assured Kim that the tumor was not caused by the tubing accident but noted that it was probably a miracle that she had the accident because it had allowed doctors to find the tumor at an early stage.That led Kim into the world of the medical patient.
Having no idea what an astrocytoma was just days earlier, she found herself immersed in the issues relevant to anyone facing a potentially life-threatening condition once doctors identified the specific kind of tumor she had."I didn't know where to go, what do to," she said. "It was a frightening experience. You go so through many emotions: anger, denial, the things you experience when you're going through grief."Kim and her mom met with Stacey Lafave, a social worker for the FitzPatrick Cancer Center in Plattsburgh, who helped them make plans for the upcoming battle against the tumor.She also visited with neurologists in Albany and scheduled surgery in November to remove the tumor."I asked them if we could wait because my sister was getting married at the end of October," Kim said. "Planning for the wedding was really important for us all. It gave us all something else to focus on."
Surgery went without a hitch, and follow-up exams have not shown any reoccurrence of the cancer, though Kim has accepted the fact that it may return."It may be next year; it may be 50 years," she said. "Now we just have to take it day by day and pray for the best."The Fultons have decided not to wait passively for what the future may bring. Instead, they are forming a local support group for adults with brain tumors and their families."Everyone has been so supportive of us," Pattie said. "This is something that we can do to give something back to the community."It will also be a way for people facing the uncertainties that Kim faced to have someone to share those fears with, Kim added.
"A lot of times you feel alone when you face something like this," Lafave said from her office at the Cancer Center. "When you can find other people who have had similar experiences, it can give you a little extra confidence in what you face."Lafave oversees a couple of other support groups at the Cancer Center, and though the brain-tumor group is not affiliated with the center, Lafave has offered her support and expertise in helping the fledgling group get started."Whenever a disease isn't as common as, say, breast cancer, people don't know that much about it," she said."And when people are younger, it makes it all that more complexing. What makes this support group so special is that it's being organized by people who have a passion. They want it to succeed."Though Kim has had tremendous support from her parents; brothers, Chris and Bryan; sisters, Jill, Melissa, Bridget and Jodi; and siblings-in-law Amanda and Mike, she feels better knowing that other people will be able to find support when facing the reality of a brain tumor, even if they don't have a large family nearby.