Family House Diaries: Experiencing UNC as a patient, not a student

24-year-old Cedric Faison of Battleboro, N.C., intended to spend this spring semester finishing his undergraduate music education degree at East Carolina University. Instead, he’s spent most of the term at UNC Hospitals being treated for a brain tumor.

Family House Diaries: Experiencing UNC as a patient, not a student click to enlarge Cedric Faison, left, with his parents, Barbara and Charles, prepares to ring the gong, celebrating his completion of six weeks of radiation at UNC Hospitals.

Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for the UNC Medical Center News Office

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Cedric Faison intended to spend this spring semester finishing his undergraduate music education degree at East Carolina University.  Instead, he’s spent most of the term at UNC Hospitals being treated for a brain tumor.
“I’ve always liked UNC, but this isn’t the way I intended to spend time in Chapel Hill,” said Cedric, 24, from Battleboro, N.C., in Edgecombe County.  “I was a Tar Heel before my treatment, but I’m even more so now.”
A few headaches last fall weren’t concerning to Cedric, but a debilitating headache two days before Christmas sent him to his local emergency room.  Within six hours, he had been airlifted to UNC Hospitals.  A series of tests, including a biopsy, confirmed an aggressive, primary tumor in the left side of his brain. 
“Technically, it’s known as gliomatosis cerebri, and only 200 cases have been recorded in medical literature since the late 1940s,” said David E. Morris, MD, associate professor at the UNC School of Medicine, co-director of the neuro-oncology multidisciplinary program at UNC Hospitals and leader of Cedric’s health care team.
“It’s most common in patients between the ages of 20 and 50 years, and in Cedric’s case, the tumor’s location can impact speech, the processing of information and the function of strength on the opposite side of the body,” said Dr. Morris.  “For someone who is right-handed, as Cedric is, this is especially concerning.  Given the rareness of the tumor, its location and Cedric’s age, we felt it best for him to be treated at a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center hospital like UNC.”
For six weeks, Monday through Friday, Cedric received radiation once a day and took an oral chemotherapy daily.  At the completion of the radiation treatments, Cedric was switched to a maintenance chemotherapy regimen that gives him one week-on and three weeks-off therapy.  
“Cedric’s tolerated the radiation and chemotherapy well, with no debilitating side effects,” Dr. Morris said.  “He’s been able to go about his daily routines, and so far, so good.”
But Cedric hasn’t played his clarinet – his musical instrument of choice – since his diagnosis.  “I didn’t want to put any undue pressure or mess up what’s going on in here,” said Cedric, patting the hairless left side of his scalp.  “But I’m doing good, just a little tired.  My speech is better and my thought process is a lot better.  For a while, I couldn’t read my computer screen and that scared me.  My motor skills and balance are tested weekly, and I’m tested with questions that require me to reason and think.  So far, I’ve passed all those tests.” 
During the six weeks of his daily radiation treatments, Cedric and his mother, Barbara, 55, stayed at SECU Family House, a 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house minutes from UNC Hospitals that provides comfortable, convenient and affordable housing for adult patients undergoing treatment for critical illness and trauma and their family member caregivers. 
“Being able to stay at Family House made Cedric’s treatment at UNC possible,” said Barbara.  “We couldn’t make the drive from home every day.  That first Monday the traffic was terrible, and it took us an hour to go five miles.  We already had enough stress without that.”
Thereafter, Barbara’s husband and Cedric’s father, Charles, an employee of Kaba Ilco (formerly Unican Security Systems) in Rocky Mount, drove them to Chapel Hill Monday mornings and picked them up on Fridays after Cedric’s treatment so the family could be together on weekends.  During the week, Cedric and Barbara took the shuttle to and from UNC Hospitals and SECU Family House. 
“I like it here at Family House because it’s calm, and I like calm,” said Cedric.  “And we’ve met some wonderful people.”    
“We even met another band parent who’s here with her husband,” said Barbara.  “She knows about the big competition near Scranton, Penn., that Cedric attended in high school because she’s been there with her own child.  She knows all about those long weekends and late nights from September through November when you have a child in high school band.”
Barbara has been able to cook for Cedric in the SECU Family House kitchen, but both also have appreciated the generosity of volunteer groups from town and campus who organize home-cooked meals for Family House residents several nights a week.  And the North Carolina Botanical Garden across from SECU Family House has beckoned for more than one spring afternoon walk.
“Still, as Dorothy said, ‘there’s no place like home’,” Barbara said, looking forward to returning to her sweetheart Charles, to Battleboro and to her work as a substitute teacher in the Edgecombe County Schools before April’s end.  “We’ve been here for what we’ve had to do and enjoyed it – as much as you can enjoy being treated for something like this. 
“Cedric’s had a very helpful team, and we trust them,” Barbara continued. “When we’ve had questions, they’ve had the answers.  They seem to care – a lot – and because of that it’s easy to trust them.  And I don’t trust just anybody with my ‘heart-drop’ as I call Cedric and his two brothers.”
Cedric now plans to graduate in May 2011, taking a full year to complete what’s needed to fulfill his degree requirements without putting undue stress on his healing body and mind. 
“I was on track and ready to graduate this May, but my treatment is more important,” Cedric said.  “I want to be better and well and enjoy my studies as I intended.  I want to be ready for band camps and to teach some private lessons to middle- and high school students like I’ve enjoyed before.”

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