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Detroit Lakes man faces tough road after discovering he has brain cancer

A little over two weeks ago, Detroit Lakes resident Joshua Anderson, 20, told his parents that he had a headache.

"I was thinking it was a migraine," said Joshua's mother, Karen. "They run in the family."

Still, Josh had never experienced a migraine before, so they weren't sure.

"He'd never had any problems," said Josh's father, Rick.

"He's always been a very healthy boy," said Karen.

By the next day, early Wednesday morning, Oct. 21, the headache had escalated to the point that he began vomiting -- so violently that his girlfriend, Summer Jordan, decided to take him to the emergency room.

For some reason, Josh's symptoms caused the doctor in the E.R. to order a catscan.

"I don't know what made him (the doctor) think to do that, but I'm really glad he did," said Karen.

A short time later, Summer called the Andersons to let them know what was going on.

"She said they had found a tumor, and they were in the ambulance on the way to Fargo," Karen said.

An MRI was ordered immediately upon Josh's arrival at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo. What they found was surprising -- and disturbing.

"It turned out not to be a brain tumor," Karen said. "It was bone cancer that had started in his skull and grew into the brain."

Josh had a condition known as chondrosarcoma, Karen added.

Shortly after the MRI was done, he was taken up to the intensive care unit -- and his condition took a decided turn for the worse.

"He became unresponsive, and they had to intubate him (i.e., put him on a breathing machine)," Karen said.

MeritCare doctors also quickly discovered that Josh's condition required immediate surgery. Not only had a blood vessel burst in his brain, causing internal bleeding, but the size and position of the tumor had blocked the normal flow of fluid in and around his brain, causing a pressure buildup that was damaging his nerves and brain tissue.

"They had to place a drain in his head to remove the fluid (and relieve the pressure on the brain)," Karen said. "When they got him stabilized, they went back in -- and removed 95 percent of the tumor."

"It took an hour and a half to get the drain in, and another three hours to get the tumor out," Rick added.

Unfortunately, Karen added, they couldn't remove all of it. The remaining five percent of the tumor was located in a very dangerous spot.

"It had grown around the brain stem and started going down toward the spinal cord," Karen said.

Though the form of cancer Josh has is slow-growing, and does not metastasize (i.e., spread from one part of the body to another), it also does not respond to chemotherapy or radiation, she added.

"The oncologist said that if it grows further, it will kill him," she said.

Basically, the prognosis was that Josh had about a year left to live -- if a second aneurysm or pneumonia don't kill him first.

But the neurosurgeon who operated on him, Dr. Chad Justesen, was not quite so pessimistic.

"His plan was to get him healthy enough to go to rehab on the south campus of MeritCare, and when he's strong enough, he (Dr. Justensen) intends to consult with the doctors at the University of Minnesota and Mayo (Clinic)," Karen says. "He feels confident that with the more sophisticated technology they have, they will have a greater capability of getting the rest of the tumor out."

"He's not 100 percent sure they can do it," Rick said.

"But he has confidence in the doctors at the U of M and at Mayo -- and he has faith in Josh," Karen added.

Though they are well aware of the dangers that face Joshua in the months ahead, the Andersons -- including his two older siblings, Jason and Sharon, who live nearby -- are ready to put up the biggest fight of their lives to keep him with them.

"We're taking it day by day," Karen said.

And for now, Joshua appears to be on the road to recovery.

"The day after the surgery, they shut off the breathing machine, and he's been breathing fine on his own," said Karen.

The drain inside his brain has since been removed as well, and the doctors are keeping a close watch to make sure no further swelling, bleeding, or fluid buildup occurs.

"When he gets stronger, and can fight better, pneumonia won't be a risk factor any longer," Rick added.

For now, Josh's parents have no plans to tell him how precarious his health really is.

"We do not want him to stop fighting -- I need him to keep fighting," Karen said.

"He has to stay positive --  say, 'I'm going to get better, I'm going to go home' -- or he won't beat this," Rick added.

But the good news is, Josh is still young, and was otherwise healthy before the crisis occurred. And he has a strong passion for life, Karen said.

"He's a very determined young man," she added.

"He's really stubborn," said Rick. "If you tell him he can't do something, he'll do it."

"I don't want to take that hope, that will, that determination away," Karen added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454