Tuesday, May 19, 2009

reason for optimism?

[NB: Be sure to read the update at the end of this post.]

My brother David just sent me the following link about Ted Kennedy, whose cancer is said to be in remission. Like Mom, Kennedy was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). From what we've learned about this disease, we know that it can never go away, so perhaps remission is the best that anyone can hope for. I view Kennedy's news with cautious optimism.

From the article:

In a stunning turnaround, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s brain cancer has gone into remission, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Bay State senior senator is expected to go back to work next month.

Reid said he spoke with Kennedy’s wife and was told the liberal lion is preparing to return to the Senate, The Hill is reporting online.

The Hill credits Reid as saying Kennedy, 77, plans to return to work full-time during the first week of June.


The Herald reported Saturday that Kennedy was given only 90 days to live when his brain cancer was diagnosed last year. A year later, he is beating all the odds.

“Never, ever, ever underestimate Ted Kennedy. Ever,” Gov. Deval Patrick said Saturday.

Friends believe the extensive surgery Kennedy underwent at Duke University Medical Center shortly after his diagnosis has helped him prolong his life dramatically.

Statistically speaking, Kennedy still falls within the 1-2-year survival rate for most GBM patients, which means that he's not really out of the woods: GBM tumors tend to recur despite surgery and subsequent therapy. In any event, I hope the senator's remission is permanent. GBM isn't something I'd wish on anyone.

It bears repeating that GBM occurs more often in men than in women, and that the way people first discover the tumor's presence is when the victim experiences seizures. In that sense, Kennedy's tumor was a textbook example of GBM. We're hoping that, in Mom's case, our own aggressive approach to treatment (several docs have already marveled that we took Mom to three different places, including Texas, for full-on consultations) will play in Mom's favor. The center of her tumor lay near the surface of the frontal lobe, making its extraction relatively easy. Mom's quick recovery from surgery is also a point in her favor, and now that we've settled (at least for now) on a treatment path, we're confident that we've placed Mom with good people who are looking out for her well-being.

As Dr. Fine mentioned in his meeting with us, each GBM is genetically unique. What works for one patient might not always work for another-- which is, I suppose, why so many researchers are interested in new first- and second-line therapies for cancer patients. The standard treatment, surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy, seems to be the universally accepted method by which treatment for GBM begins. Beyond that, however, time and the tumor's response to treatment are what determine the next steps. Some patients do well using only the standard treatment, and we're fervently hoping that Mom is in that category. If she isn't, we're lucky to have the National Cancer Institute so close at hand.

UPDATE: I half-expected that I'd be writing this update, given what I know about GBM: it turns out that reports of Senator Kennedy's GBM remission are false.


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