Shelby Lamb's Story

A High School Senior's Experience

Being a senior in high school, any normal teenage girl would have feelings of excitement and anxiety in preparing for senior prom, graduation and heading off to their freshman year of college in the fall; strangely, this was not the case for me. I don’t believe I’ve ever dreaded a new year more than I dreaded January of 2009, the month that I could lose my mom forever.

The fall started off as an exciting one for my family. I was entering my senior year at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis, MD, the place I had spent months of every year growing up since kindergarten. Since uniforms were a requirement, the activities of back to school shopping were limited to school supplies, jewelry and new glasses. A week or so before school, my Mom and I had our annual eye appointments. Our eye doctor had asked to perform an Optomap Retinal exam, which consists of taking a picture behind the eye during the normal routine. We agreed and found out something was not quite right with my Mom’s picture. Her optic nerve seemed to be under a lot of pressure, and our eye doctor suggested we see a specialist as soon as possible. For the remainder of that day, and weeks to follow, my days were filled with eye doctor appointments – right at the start of my senior year, the one that was supposed to be the least stressful and most exciting.

After visiting over a dozen specialists, I suggested my mom visit Hopkins. “It’s the best and it is right in our backyard” I told her, “Let’s just give it a try.” Our journey began at The Wilmer Eye Institute on the day my Dad and I brought my Mom to her first of many appointments. My Mom was used to the normal routine now; eyes dilated and people shining lights into her eyes saying something wasn’t quite normal. Each doctor we had visited before managed to tell us something just a little bit different than the last. The severity of my Mom’s case ranged from surgery months down the road to needing surgery the following morning.

At Wilmer, the diagnosis seemed to hit the situation in the right way. Each explanation of what was going on seemed to fit a bit more perfectly than the previous doctor we had visited. It seemed that my mom had a tumor, a brain tumor to be exact, and it was causing pressure on the optic nerve as well as pushing her eyeball forward. I could sit here and try to explain how hearing those words felt to my Mom, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Being her daughter, along with her best friend, I still to this day cannot imagine the thought of being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her surgery was scheduled for January 8th, of 2009, the day of my mom’s 52nd birthday. Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa and Dr. Prem Subramanian were scheduled to be the two doctors in charge of saving my Mom’s life.

The holidays before the surgery were not quite holidays at all. Thanksgiving was filled with prayer and thanks for my Mom and hopes for a successful surgery while Christmas was filled with anxiety, as her surgery was only a few weeks away. My parents celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary on December 31st and were forced to welcome a very unwanted new year. January 8th quickly approached, much to my dismay. Until this point I had yet to cry in front of my Mom about the surgery. I promised myself I would remain strong for her and not show a sign of weakness but I remember waking up that morning with puffy eyes from crying myself to sleep the night before. That morning, we arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital hours before the world would even wake up, and I was forced to hug and kiss my Mom like it was the last time I would ever have a chance. There are only a few times in my life I had ever watched my Dad cry, but that morning tears filled both of our eyes as we each said “I Love You” and “See you after surgery”, although we weren’t quite sure we would.

Although I am an only child, I believe I have one of the largest families in Annapolis and that day, we proceeded to fill an entire waiting room. Six hours and multiple phone calls from the operating room later, my family was informed the surgery was successful. Dr. Quiñones told us that he believed the tumor was not cancerous and was about the size of an orange that was pushing her brain completely to one side of her head. He proceeded to explain how if she would’ve waited any longer, the surgery might not have been such a success. I thank God everyday that she did not postpone her surgery.

My whole family in tow, we were lead to another waiting room and asked to wait a bit longer for them to settle her in and get her stable before we could see her. By the look I saw on my Dad’s face and in his eyes for those hours in the waiting room, I knew that his entire world had been in two doctors’ hands for the past 6 hours. If I wasn’t aware of the meaning of true love before then, I found out that day.

The rest of that day proceeded as normal as could be. I visited my Mom and enjoyed the remarks and funny things she said as she was still receiving pain medicine. I felt a huge burden off my shoulders that night as I went to bed and I slept soundly knowing that this battle was not going to be one that kept my mom, and my best friend, from cheering me on at my high school graduation later that year.

Ever since, my family has been extremely grateful to Hopkins and the amazing doctors that we met there throughout the process. If it wasn’t for Dr. Subramanian and Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa, I wouldn’t be sitting here eating a homemade meal prepared by my Mom for dinner tonight. I’m not quite sure how I can ever truly thank everyone involved in my Mom’s surgery that day, but my family and I have surely set out on a path to try.

In the summer of 2010, a raffle was held with the goal of raising money for Dr. Subramanian. The winner would enjoy a night out on a skipjack thanks to a generous donation from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Along with the raffle, a silent auction took place with all of the proceeds also being donated to Dr. Subramanian.

January 15th, 2011, 2 years and 1 week after my mom’s successful surgery, “Johns Hopkins Bull and Shrimp Feast” took place in Annapolis, MD. This event included everything from a live band to a raffle for a signed Paul Reed Smith guitar. The event was in hopes of raising money for Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa and his lab so they may purchase a microscope costing around $750,000. As you can imagine, my whole family was present along with many friends that had been so supportive of us throughout the entire surgery and recovery. Our guest of honor that night was Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, himself, along with his team from his lab and his beautiful family. Throughout the night, we managed to raise over $10,000. The event was a pure success.

Although thousands of dollars have been raised, this journey is just beginning for my family. We are determined to help raise money for the research of the two men who gave my mom a gift we could never replicate; her life. Silent Auctions, Crab Feasts, and the now annual Bull and Shrimp Feast are only a few of the events planned to continue this mission we have started.

I know I can speak for my family when we say thank you to each and every person involved in the Wilmer Eye Institute and Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Facility. You will never know the joy and love you have given us each and every day we get to spend with my Mom. We can only hope to show you our appreciation.

-Shelby Lamb
Annapolis, MD

Read more about Mary Lamb's fundraising efforts for Dr. Q's lab