“I plan on being one of those one-percenters.”
That’s what Dana D., referring to the approximately 1% of glioblastoma patients who survive 10 years, has to say about living with brain cancer. When the 61-year-old from Denville, NJ, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, she saw only one path forward: choosing hope.
“After the shock of my diagnosis wore off, I realized there were two ways I could handle myself,” says Dana. “I could stay in bed and cry, or I could surround myself with hope and live my life to the fullest. Thanks to my amazing support team – my family, friends and the wonderful specialists at the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center – I’m doing exactly that.”
Dana renewed her vows with her high school sweetheart and husband of 40 years, Bill.
Dana’s tumor was discovered when she experienced the abrupt onset of stroke-like symptoms. She had been raking leaves with her husband and suddenly was unable to speak. Having taken a CPR and First Aid course to ensure she could care for her young grandchildren in case of an emergency, she remembered the F.A.S.T. acronym for stroke symptoms (now B.E. F.A.S.T.) and recalled face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulties meant it was time to call 911. She was able to mutter the word “stroke,” and her family called an ambulance to rush her to the emergency department.
Dana was treated at the nearest hospital, where an MRI scan revealed a “cluster” on her brain. This mass is likely what caused the seizure episode that was initially believed to be a stroke. Not taking any chances, John J. Knightly, MD, director of quality for neurosurgery at Atlantic Health System, had her transferred to the Glasser Brain Tumor Center.
“Dr. Knightly told me I would have a great team of subspecialized doctors and caregivers at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center. He was so right. They couldn’t have been nicer, more informative or more encouraging,” adds Dana, with her contagious positivity.
At the Center, Dana was evaluated by an integrated team of brain tumor specialists, including neurosurgeon Fabio A. Frisoli, MD, neuro-oncologist Nicholas R. Metrus, MD, radiation oncologist Joana S. Emmolo, MD, and Angela Davis, APN, a nurse practitioner specializing in neuro-oncology. Bringing expertise to the table from every angle, they worked collaboratively to develop a personalized care plan, which started with removing the cluster.
“Given Dana’s constellation of neurological symptoms and the proximity of the tumor to the speech center in the brain, we needed to start with surgery to remove the mass. This would allow us to both alleviate her symptoms and obtain an appropriate diagnosis,” explains Dr. Frisoli. “The goal of surgery is always to safely remove as much of the tumor as possible, without causing a neurological deficit. With a focus on safety and precision, we were able to remove all of Dana’s tumor without damaging healthy brain tissue.”
After pathology confirmed that Dana’s tumor was a glioblastoma, Dr. Metrus and Dr. Emmolo discussed the different possibilities for post-surgical treatment, including clinical trial options, with Dana and her family.
“Dana’s tumor had a mutation called MGMT methylation, which was a key factor in deciding to use temozolomide for chemotherapy. Not only is it the standard-of-care chemotherapy for glioblastoma, but studies also show it works more even effectively for tumors that have this specific type of mutation,” explains Dr. Metrus.
“I want to do absolutely everything I can, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support I’ve received,” Dana says. “The team at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center hasn’t only delivered amazing medical care. Their doctors and nurses have cared for me and my family since Day One. My patient navigator Janet LeMonnier and the Glasser Brain Tumor Center Support Group made my journey so much easier to handle. They’ve helped me keep my light shining bright. There’s truly no greater gift than that.”