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How I survived a stage 4 GBM and had a healthy baby after 2 years of Chemo

Published on August 17, 2016 in Share Your Story

Susan Hilburger, brain cancer survivor

My name is Susan Hilburger. I am 40 years-old and a native of Buffalo, N.Y. This is my story of how I received a life altering diagnosis, made a drastic career change, and overcame all odds by surviving brain cancer and becoming a wife and mother.

Prior to being diagnosed with brain cancer, I worked as a computer engineer for PepsiCo in New York City for 11 years. After leaving NYC, I moved to Las Vegas to work as a technical project manager for a large casino company.

I always maintained a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and exercise. My project manager position was stressful at times, but I accepted the stress as part of the job.

On Super Bowl Sunday 2011, I had a grand mal seizure. My parents were visiting from out of town and immediately called 911 for assistance. The paramedics arrived and transported me to the emergency room. The doctors did a CAT scan and found a brain tumor on the left parietal side of my brain.

The medical diagnosis hit very close to home because my sister, a mother of three young children as well as my grandfather both passed away from a glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumor. After watching two people that I loved go through their battle, I was ready to face the challenge ahead. I knew the severity of the disease and the extensive medical treatment that it would require.

At the emergency room, an ER doctor referred me to a highly regarded neurosurgeon, Dr. Kelly Schmidt. Two days later, Dr. Schmidt performed a craniotomy and removed a tumor on the left side of my brain. My tumor was approximately seven centimeters in diameter. I stayed in the hospital for five days after the surgery was performed and then began a rehabilitation program that lasted about two weeks.

Shortly thereafter, I was referred to Dr. Anthony Nguyen, medical oncologist and Dr. Matthew Schwartz, radiation oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada (CCCN) for chemotherapy and radiation treatment. My doctors at CCCN sent my pathology reports to MD Anderson and UCLA Medical Center for further review. Upon receiving the results, it was determined I had a grade-4 glioblastoma tumor (GMB). Glioblastoma tumors spread quickly and are the most invasive type of brain tumor. Due to the severity of a GBM-4, we needed to act immediately to keep the tumor from spreading.

I immediately started a chemotherapy plan, which consisted of Temodar and radiation treatments that lasted approximately six weeks. Temodar is used for combatting glioblastoma and is often paired with radiotherapy for optimal results. After radiation, I continued to use Temodar for approximately two years.

In May 2013, my treatments ended and my cancer was in remission, but I continue to see my doctors at CCCN for periodic brain scans and follow-up appointments every three to six months.

After experiencing such a life altering diagnosis, I quit my job and decided to focus on my two passions, yoga and nutrition. Currently, I teach yoga at various studios, corporations and gyms throughout Las Vegas. This includes The Caring Place, which provides no-cost services such as massage, yoga, reiki, healing bells, support groups and so much more that help empower and educate cancer survivors and their loved ones. I was a patient at the caring place when I was diagnosed, and one year later I was blessed to be able to teach yoga to other cancer survivors. I have been teaching there for the past five years.

I am also very happy to say that after going through this battle, I met the love of my life and married my husband, Juan Carlos, in the fall of 2014. On September 13, 2015, I delivered a beautiful and healthy baby girl named Gianna. I call Gianna my miracle baby because after weeks of radiation and enduring years of chemotherapy treatments, I didn’t think having a baby was possible. I was a high risk patient, but my pregnancy went well and I didn’t have any complications. I taught yoga throughout my pregnancy up to two weeks before Gianna was born. She is now 8 months old!

I am extremely grateful for the excellent care I received from my neurosurgeon, and oncologist, radiation oncologist and staff at CCCN. They were like family to me. They worked so hard to help me beat this disease!

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