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After I left school, my parents forced me to see a therapist to check for depression. My personality changes made no sense to me, and I resisted being treated for a mental illness. I got a job at a factory and watched from home as my friends graduated and started their careers.
Later, when the headaches started, my doctor wasn’t overly concerned. After all, it was a stressful time in my life—headaches would be a natural physical reaction. It eventually led to affecting my vision and partial paralysis. It was clear something was wrong. After a CAT scan revealed a golf ball-sized tumor on my brain, I was rushed into surgery immediately. A week later, I was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that was lethal in nearly every case. I had at most, six months to live. I was 22.
My oncologist recommended me to begin chemo and radiation immediately, measures that might prolong my life for a while. They actually said to this doctor—a really good doctor who wanted to start immediately this treatment that would buy me a little more time to hold off. But they needed time to process and to look at alternatives.
Taking time off work, my parents began the tough task of researching any hospital or clinical team researching my type of cancer. They weren’t looking for more time, they wanted a cure. They worked the phones. Duke. Miami. A host of other places, before choosing the University of Michigan, whose Brain Tumor Program had a promising clinical trial.
With approval from my oncologist, I underwent grueling tests to see if I was a suitable candidate for it. I was accepted into DC Vax, an immunotherapy treatment program which used my own cells to fight the cancer and keep it away forever.
For two years, my oncologist worked alongside my clinical trial team at the U-M. After every treatment and every surgery, there were reports and emails exchanged to bring each other up to speed on my progress. The immunotherapy and six surgeries were done at the U-M, while my chemo and radiation were done near my home. The process worked well, so well that when I made it to the end of the clinical trial, no one quite knew what to do next. People rarely survived this and yet my tumor was gone. The clinical trial worked exactly the way the doctors intended.
Now, 5 years later, I am officially cancer free and a college graduate. My doctors aren’t as worried anymore about recurrence. I will soon be working full-time with Riverbend Cancer Services clients to locate alternative cancer treatments around the country.