Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hooray for Dr. Ray

Remember way back in November when we met with Dr. Peter Ray to discuss removing what appeared to be a growing tumor on Philip's forehead?  At that time, Dr. Ray elected to wait, see what the tumor looked like in the January 2014 MRI, and then make a decision.  He wanted to make sure we were not sacrificing any nerve function around the eye and forehead.  We met with him in February and elected to move forward with surgery.  March 24th,  Dr.  Ray removed the tumor, and even though we held out a small hope that the "growth" was not a tumor, the pathology report came back as neurofibroma tumor tissue.  The good news is that Dr. Ray was able to completely remove the tumor without any nerve damage.  He was extremely detailed in reviewing every single concern, and that's the kind of doctor this mama likes.  Give it to me straight, and don't leave anything out. 
We met with Dr. Ray today for our post surgical appointment and gave him a huge high five for a successful surgery.  There will be a small scar on Philip's forehead but it is not noticeable due to his boy band haircut.  We will meet with Dr. Ray again in about six months to double check for any tumor regrowth but for today, we are calling this a victory in our NF journey.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

NF Walk Update and Little Philip Update

We thank you for the sacrifice of your time and resources to support research to fund a cure and treatment for neurofibromatosis (NF).  When we started this medical journey with Little Philip over two years ago, we never expected to be the recipients of so much prayer, so much love, so much support. We are forever changed as a family because of NF but have always been surrounded by your love and for that, we are eternally grateful.

For those that have donated but are unable to be with us on May 10th.  THANK YOU!
As of today, Team Moss has raised $11,040 and currently has 130 members!  Team Moss is comprised of family, friends both near and far, our children's classmates atVestavia West Elementary, former classmates from Trinity Child Development Center, friends from our Mountain Brook Community Church, colleagues and college friends from Birmingham-Southern College, Samford, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and neighbors.  In the name of research we've even let in a few Ole Miss Rebels.  Overall, the 1st annual Birmingham NF Walk is just $5000 from meeting its $30,000 goal with one month to go.  Please share our NF story (attached) with your family and friends to help us meet our overall goal and to increase education and understanding of what NF is.  Here is a quick definition:

Neurofibromatosis  (NF)  is a genetic condition that causes tumors to grow throughout the body and can lead to blindness, bone abnormalities, cancer, deafness, disfigurement, and learning disabilities.  

For those that will be joining us in Birmingham for the walk on May 10th:
We recognize that many of you are coming from out of town and have asked for recommendations for nearby hotels.  We recommend  Holiday Inn Birmingham/Homewoodlocated at 492 Wildwood Circle North in Homewood just off of the Lakeshore Drive exit of I-65. This hotel has an indoor pool and kids eat free in their reasonably priced hotel restaurant. There are several chain restaurants and fast food locations within walking distance, along with a Starbucks for those of you who share Renie's affinity for good caffeine.    Additional hotel recommendations that are in that same area, literally just down the same road -  La Quinta Inn and Suites, and Hampton Inn.  

We are working on plans to have a Team Moss celebration party after the walk on Saturday evening for those that are in town and can join us. 

If you would please reply to and let us know
1.  When you plan to arrive and where you are staying
2.  If you are in town Saturday, May 10th night.  
3.  Your t-shirt size and sizes for anyone else registered within families. (this is very important!)

Your reply by April 26th will help us  in planning a fun and memorable weekend.  If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

For those that are still considering donating to CTF or joining us to walk on May 10th:
Please donate or register at the web page for Team Moss here.  Be sure to select the "Join Team" button or "donate now" button on the right hand side of the screen.  

How is Little Philip doing?
Just over one month after the NF Walk, Little Philip will endure his sixth MRI in less than three years, requiring general anesthesia due to the location of the tumor in his neck.  After four separate specialists appointments and a thorough review of his case in the past few months, his medical team has not been able to agree on a chemotherapy drug that would halt the growth of this particular type of tumor.  As a result, the tumor is slowly encroaching on his airway.  We know there are many worthwhile charities to support but please understand that NF is a a tough contender to receive attention from the "big dogs" at American Cancer Society and larger non-profits who that have huge overhead administrative costs. Philip's doctors are wholly supportive of our support for Children's Tumor Foundation's strategy (financial report here ) due to the low administrative costs, and significant funding directly from the Children's Tumor Foundation for clinical trials that one day, may offer hope for our son.   Here in Birmingham, our doctor, Bruce Korf,  literally wrote the book on Neurofibromatosis.   

If you do not feel led to respond to this NF Walk, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss one on one with you what the Children's Tumor Foundation does and why we endorse and encourage your support.  We are now the state leaders for the Alabama chapter of Children's Tumor Foundation and are committed to four goals: fundraising, advocacy, patient engagement, and support for newly diagnosed individuals and their families.  
Please forward this email and share our family blog at to increase awareness and help us connect with other families affected by NF.  If you have friends that would like to make a donation in the name of Team Moss directly to the Children's Tumor Foundation by mail, I have attached a donation form that can be included with donation.  I have also attached the Team Moss flyer to this email that shares our NF story. 

On behalf of Team Moss, we thank you and look forward to hearing from you soon,
Renie and Philip Moss
View the Moss Family NF video here posted on the UAB Department of Genetics homepage.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Helen's 6th Birthday

We celebrated Helen's sixth birthday this past week.  Six years ago we were ill prepared for the day she was born.  My husband and I were in the middle of a raging stomach bug that had left me incapacitated the previous 72 hours.  My husband had succumbed to it the night before her arrival, announcing at 6:00 a.m. that he was not leaving the bed. With full empathy for what he was experiencing, I started the day with the intent of allowing him the grace and support he had offered me the previous three days.  As I exited the shower sometime around 6:30 am my water broke.  Poor hubby dragged himself out of the bed as we quickly rushed to get two year old Little Philip to day care for the day and make the necessary phone calls to both sets of grandparents to begin their drive from out of town to meet us. Helen arrived a little after 2:00 p.m.. March 18, 2005, a healthy 7 pounds, 12 ounces.  She was supposed to arrive some time around April 6, 2005.  I still clutch my belly thinking about what another three weeks would have shown on the newborn scale.

Early.  If there is one word to describe Helen, that would be it.  She was our surprise gift from God, as we learned in 2004 that our silly earthly plans were out the door, and heavenly plans were in progress for us to become a family of four.  She was an early arrival on March 18, 2008.  And as any friends or family know, Helen is an early riser.  The only time she has ever slept until 8:00 am was due to a fever.  She is a planner, providing early instructions for her seventh birthday within minutes of her sixth birthday party ending. Writing letters to Santa on December 26th each year for the next year.   While the early rising is clearly inherited from her daddy, the early planning and execution of complex event coordination is most definitely inherited from her Type A mother.  

Happy birthday, Helen.  You are such a joy and light to us and everyone that knows you! 

Helen also saw Dr. Korf this week for her annual NF check up. While she has a few new harmless cafe-au-lait spots, common in children with neurofibromatosis, there were no concerns. Now that she is six, we are about a year away from being mostly out of the woods for any potential optic glioma tumors and plexiform tumors that usually present before age seven. Hooray for some good news and the ability to breathe a little easier as spring arrives!  But, as an expert planner and providing early communication for the Birmingham NF Walk, Helen reminds everyone that has not yet registered for the May 10th Birmingham NF Walk to do so today! Visit to register or donate.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Oncology Consult Review

We completed our final consultation today with Dr. Alyssa Reddy, pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital here in Birmingham.   We checked Philip out of school around 10:00 a.m. and headed to the Egg and I for brunch so that he could use his reward coupon he earned from Mrs. Krusinski for being a diligent reader.  Since it is due to expire March 21st, he has been rather insistent that he be able to use it soon.   This seemed like the perfect day.

All smiles!

From there we headed to Clinic 8 at Children's Hospital for our noon appointment.  Let me just say that it is a place of great hope, anxiety, and fear and probably everything in between.   This is the hematology and oncology clinic.  Many children were wearing masks and some were clearly undergoing intense treatment.  Parents looked tired, encouraged, worried, hopeful, exhausted, and I'm probably missing 90% of what was really going on in the hearts in that room which makes me completely inadequate to communicate.   We observed nurses and other staff calling patients by name, passing through the waiting room greeting children and families with warm smiles, kneeling down to get on the level of each child.  There is a strong sense of dedication and care in Clinic 8.   If this is where we may be spending some time in the future, it was an encouraging observation to file somewhere in the back of my mind...just in case.

Dr. Reddy was very informative and made us feel very confident that she had fully reviewed Philip's medical situation.  I don't think we expected to be given a silver bullet to cure Philip today but I think we had talked ourselves into expecting to hear about an encouraging chemotherapy option for our son.  

Dr. Reddy talked about two drugs that we knew about and gave us the name of a new one (Tamoxifen) to consider as she and the rest of our medical team talk about what direction we take.  None of them offer a guaranteed positive outcome but have shown some improvement for some patients.  I guess we knew this but hearing it again just stinks.  For now, we will remain in the wait and see mode.  We will wait until after the next MRI in late June to have another check on tumor growth rate.  We will wait until summer before a decision to start on a chemo regiment that will be less invasive for a school-age child.  We will wait until July in the hope that a miracle cure will be discovered in the next four months.  We will wait....

That sounds pretty dismal but this is just the reality of living with NF.  "Time is on our side" is the quote I remember most from Dr. Reddy today.  These NF tumors are very slow growing and that is one reason why they do not respond to typical chemotherapy drugs.  Slow growing is good in that Philip is still not experiencing any pain or risky symptoms from his tumor.  Slow growing is bad in that we just do not know if and when a symptom may show up that warrants action.  One month, one year, two years, 10 years?  If the tumor continues to encroach on his airway, what can we do?   Is that action chemo?  What if that fails?  Surgery?  We just don't know.   As of  March 11, 2014, there is no effective intervention to confidently shrink Philip's tumor.   We would love for someone to tell us we are wrong.

So ending on some positives:
1.  Philip is NOT IN PAIN
2.  Philip is not showing any serious concerns other than the obvious cosmetic issue of a large tumor
3.  Fellow students and friends are not bullying or treating Philip differently because of his tumor.  
4.  Philip seems ok with talking to peers who ask him  "what's wrong with your neck."
5.  Dr. Korf is a rock star in the NF world.  We are in the best hands possible.  
6.  God has our precious son in the palm of His hand.  He's got this.  
7.  God has placed such a strong community of support around us through our church, community, and work place.  The outpouring of prayers and thoughts has been incredible.  

No one could have prepared us for how much we would need #7.  #7 reminds us that #6 is true when we find ourselves doubting and then we remind ourselves of #1-5 to return us to the peace of trusting #6 again.  As someone who is a complete control freak, it takes a lot to admit I need something that I can't do for myself or my family.  This is a hard lesson for me in allowing the body of Christ to minister to our family and for me to be ok with admitting that we need it and accept it.  We need it and we are so grateful for all the love and support we have received.

So, if you haven't had a chance to sign up for the Birmingham NF Walk scheduled for May 10th, perhaps this update will motivate you to join with us, Team Moss, to raise funds and awareness that moves the Children's Tumor Foundation towards making our hope a reality in finding a cure for NF in our children's life time.  Sign up to "Join My Team" or "Donate" on the right hand column of Team Moss's fundraising page. 

Image from Philip's January 2014 MRI.  The white mass on the left is the tumor.   His jaw line is on top, spinal column in the center bottom. The tumor is NOT in his brain but rather, in the neck.    The solid black area in the middle is his airway.   This shows why airway is our greatest concern for tumor growth.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ENT Consult Review

Today we met with Dr. Audie Woolley, Philip's ENT.  Dr. Woolley did the original surgery on Philip back in 2011 that resulted in his NF diagnosis.  That little 2 cm tumor he removed back then has grown significantly, and is now the subject of many, many medical voices as everyone seeks to provide the best medical recommendation moving forward.

So our consult today was not good news.  Dr. Woolley was professional, kind, and incredibly informative.  We truly appreciated it when he asked the nurses to take Little Philip out to the lobby so he could speak candidly with us as parents.  When he returned, he shared that Philip's situation is very bad.  Basically his neck is full of golfball sized tumors.  Dr. Woolley differed in opinion from Dr. Korf's opinion in that Dr. Korf believes the neck to be one large lobulated nodular tumor.  Dr. Woolley's opinion is that there are several lobular tumors, all involving different nerves.  Neither opinion changes where we stand right now.   The main tumor of concern does involve the vagus nerve, as Dr. Korf had previously indicated.   This is the most concerning of the tumors due to its encroachment on the windpipe and esophagus.  To operate at this point would mean loss of significant function.  The only reason we would operate is if Philip develops issues with breathing, swallowing, or if he develops debilitating pain from his tumor.  There is a mild obstruction in his throat due to the tumor but it is not currently affecting his breathing or swallowing.  If we do have to operate this is what we are facing:

Tumor on the 12th cranial nerve - partial loss of tongue movement
Tumor on the 11th cranial nerve - significant loss of shoulder movement and nerve function
Tumor on the vagus nerve (10th cranial nerve) - loss of voice box function, permanent hoarse voice
Tumor on the 9th cranial nerve - partial loss of sensation at back of throat

Dr. Woolley estimates there are about 6-8 tumors in Philip's neck, all involving major cranial nerve function, and again, the one of greatest concern is the vagus nerve, also the hardest to get to should we need to operate.   People can function without a vagus nerve, but aside from the loss of a voice, many people have significant abdominal issues with reflux or emptying of the abdominal cavity.  It's not pretty but it is doable.  We pray we don't have to find out.

He strongly encouraged us to consider chemotherapy to try to shrink or stabilize these tumors.  He said he would consult with Dr. Alyssa Reddy, pediatric oncologist, after our March 11th consultation with her, and as with other specialist we have met with, all would report back to Dr. Korf who continues to serve as our "quarterback" to call the best shot Little Philip has.

Dr. Woolley shared that he has had about three significant NF patients in his 20 years of ENT practice.  He has consulted with the "big guys" as he calls them down at UAB, including Dr. Bill Carroll and Dr. Eben Rosenthal about Philip's case and they all agree that surgery means significant morbidity, meaning,  sacrifice of significant bodily functions.  We like what we see on all three online vitaes for these three men and are appreciative of Dr. Woolley's professional approach to seeking multiple perspectives prior to meeting with us.  Dr. Woolley is highly regarded in his medical field.  We are in good hands.

While we were viewing the MRI with Dr. Woolley in the clinic's computer kiosk area, we sensed the concern on the faces of nurses and other medical personnel as they watched over our shoulders the computer screen showing the massive bright white tumors that take up so much of the space of our son's neck.  As we exited the clinic, the silence was deafening,  We passed through a sea of smiling faces whose eyes turned quickly to Little Philip, revealing great concern for him.   It was almost too much for us to hold our emotions together and not fall apart in front of our son.

The patience required of us until our March 11th oncology appointment is torture.  But as anyone that has followed our story knows, we believe in a greater God than this broken, messed up world offers. We continue to hold firm to our faith that God has great plans for our son.  Little Philip's sweet spirit and incredible passion for being a good friend to everyone is a sweet balm to our weary parental souls. His smile, his giggles, his silly personality, it makes our hearts burst with love for him.   God intends him to be a light in this dark world.  We believe that with every fiber of our being.

A sweet friend was such an encouragement to me today.  She reminded me of a beautiful verse that has spoken volumes to my heart today as I tried to keep it together and carry on with the day as a mother, wife, employee, and friend.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness - secret riches,  I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.  
-Isaiah 45:3

That verse is going up all over our house as we bind it to our hearts and minds in the coming weeks. We pray that it may be an encouragement to you as well, if you are facing darkness and fears in your own life.  

We continue to covet your prayers and good thoughts, specifically for Little Philip but also for us as parents as we seek to be loving, and encouraging to our son.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Neurosurgery Consult Review

Philip enjoying the morning snow on February 13, 2014
Today we met with Dr. James Johnston, neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital of Alabama.  This is one of the three appointments Dr. Korf wants us to have in order to better understand the direction we will take if Philip's neck tumor continues to grow the way it has so far.

Given Philip's tumor's growth, about 20% this past year, is outpacing his typical growth each year. Eventually, serious concern may appear.  Those specific concerns cannot be fully predicted at this time.

  • We know that as of today, both carotid arteries and jugular are displaced by the tumor and other important blood vessels are heavily involved by the tumor. 
  • The tumor is growing around the windpipe but as slow growing as the tumor has been, it has not constricted his breathing or ability to swallow, even with the small area behind his left tonsil that shows slight pressure on larynx. 
  • Then there are the nerves involved.  Facial nerves are certainly a concern, as is the vagus nerve that runs from the abdomen through the neck and into the brain.  The thought is that this tumor is growing on the vagus nerve, a very important nerve not to damage. 
  • Vocal chords are not affected at this time, but could be.  
  • There is some very minor deformity to some bone structure as well.  
In other words, there is a lot going on in that section of the neck so for this to be the place for a tumor, makes it difficult to predict.    When you see the size and shape of the tumor, it is hard to believe that Philip has no pain and no symptoms at this time.

It sounds like we are at the end of the watch and wait approach.  After our next MRI in June 2014, we will likely be looking at some kind of chemo option and if that fails, ultimately knowing what kind of surgical approach is going to be best should we have to make that difficult decision.

Dr. Johnston says the entire team listed below, along with him, will form a full review board of Philip's case  to make the best medical recommendations to us.

Dr. Audie Woolley, ENT Monday 2/25
Dr. Alyssa Reddy, Oncology, 3/11
MRI (pray for no growth) - 6/20
Dr. Bruce Korf - end of June to evaluate where we stand

As parents, this is emotionally exhausting. We are scared, but God knows that and is bigger than our fears.  We pray for peace and an increase in wisdom as we take these next steps as parents of a child with significant NF health concerns.  And most of all, we pray that we can make Philip's life as joyful and care-free as possible.  At age eight, he is wrestling with questions most children his age would never think to ask.  We have always said we do not want NF to define him, but with so many doctors appointments, it is hard for him to not ask questions and worry.  Our hearts feel like they want to burst from how much we love him, and want to see what God has in store for him.   He's a pretty special kid who just lights up the room with his special sense of humor and sweet spirit.  Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers!

Team Moss has set a $5000 goal supporting efforts to find a cure for NF.  Join us May 10th at Railroad Park in Birmingham for the first annual NF Walk, providing support for the outstanding work of the Children's Tumor Foundation.
Team Moss's Team Page for NF Walk 2014 Birmingham, AL

Monday, January 27, 2014

MRI January 2014-Optimistic

Brave Philip just before his MRI

While the radiologist report shows that Philip's tumor has not shown significant growth, volumetric measure shows that it has grown about 20% since January of 2013.  So, we will repeat another MRI in six months and at that point, if the tumor shows growth, Dr. Bruce Korf suggested that we discuss chemotherapy as an option.  The good news is that the two chemotherapy drugs he talked about are very low intensity.  One, Gleevec, is a pill and the other is Interferon,  a once a month IV infusion.  The side effects are flu-like symptoms for the day or so after treatment.  The bad news is that these two drugs among are among very few drugs known to show any affect on NF tumors (about 20% success).  There is no cure for NF, so being in that 20% is the goal.  Surgery is the last resort since it would be such a high risk surgery due to the tumor's involvement of such critical functions (nerves, blood vessels, etc).  The only reason surgery would be deemed necessary is if the tumor became life threatening or malignant.  The tumor is displacing the mucosa (membrane) of his oropharynx (area of the throat just behind the tonsils) but it is not narrowing his airway.  The tumor is also displacing his internal and external carotid arteries and the internal jugular vein, but they do not show any signs of constriction and are therefore, no cause for concern.   As a mother, hearing these observations makes you feel like you are standing on a thinly frozen pond filled with sharks with someone giving you the thumbs up from the shore, all the while hoping the sun won't start to shine.  

So our next steps are to meet with Dr. Alyssa Reddy, pediatric oncologist, Dr. Audie Woolley, our ENT who originally did Philip's surgery resulting in his NF1 diagnosis, and we will also meet with a neurosurgeon, just in case surgery becomes necessary in the future.  Dr. Korf is an incredible doctor who is very detailed and patient communicating with us.  He believes that having these three medical opinions is the most thorough way to review Philip's situation in order to make the best decision for his future care, whatever that may or may not involve.  Also, we are meeting with Dr. Peter Ray a pediatric plastic surgeon to decide whether or not to remove another tumor that is on Philip's left temple.  It is a little sensitive to him due to the location, but it is also growing larger and down the road, may be a cosmetic concern that we don't want to impact his confidence or make him self conscious anymore than he already is.  

As I have said over and over, "Big" Philip and I have deepened in our faith in the last two years , and without our faith, we don't know how we would handle all of this.  But, we do have our faith, and we know our son is a child of God, with angels watching over him every moment.  Added to that faith are hundreds of family and friends that love us through times like this.  We are forever grateful.  We are thankful to be here in Birmingham, with Dr. Korf and his team at UAB NF Clinic who is world renown for being an expert on NF1.

We are now the state leaders for the Alabama Children's Tumor Foundation chapter and encourage you to like our facebook page here.  We will be launching the 2014 Alabama NF Walk in Birmingham to raise important funds for the work of the Children's Tumor Foundation.  More information, including the date and specific location, will be announced very soon.  We look forward to bringing together families and friends from around the state and surrounding states to raise awareness and funds to find a cure and successful treatments for children and adults like Philip.  We know other families are facing NF challenges much worse than ours and as long as we have the ability to raise awareness and support research for NF, we will.  

So long story made short, we will have a few more school absences this spring to cover these important medical appointments  but our prayer request is that the tumor will somehow stop growing on its own.  Thank you so much for your continued thoughts and prayers!