Powerful Reminder: Don't Ignore Symptoms
- In 2018, Jess Giczey dismissed her symptoms of exhaustion, vomiting, blurry vision and hearing problems as homesickness. Shortly after, the 21-year-old Australian was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer.
- Now, 25, Giczey is urging others to pay attention to their bodies and any unusual symptoms or changes they may be feeling as it could be something more.
- While glioblastoma is currently an incurable disease, new brain cancer treatment are providing hope.
- Clinical trials are also a potential option for extending life through experimental treatments. You search for trials using SurvivorNet’s patient pathfinder:
Giczey, who was enrolled in a tax law master’s degree program at the University of Western Australia, began noticing an onset of symptoms during her five-month relocation to Disney World, Florida, a program she started in August 2018.Read More
“The biggest challenge, I think, is being faced with my mortality at 21,” she explained. “Even now at 25, I’m not sure that I’ve completely wrapped my head around the fact that there’s something inside me trying to kill me, essentially.”
By October 2018, Gliczey realized her symptoms worsened and she decided to visit a doctor. She recounted, “I had started feeling really tired, was vomiting a lot, and my vision and hearing got really bad.”
It was then she was recommended to get an MRI at a hospital, but she decided not to.
“Growing up, I’ve always been a bit dramatic whenever I was sick, and I didn’t want to get slammed with a huge medical bill over nothing. So I just put the symptoms down to being homesick and working a lot,” she explained.
When her five months at Disney World concluded, Gliczey returned home and got checked by her general practitioner—who also advised her to get an MRI sooner than later.
The MRI revealed she had a mass the size of her fist on her brain, prompting her to be transferred to a neurology ward, where she had brain surgery to get a biopsy of the tumor and a shunt to drain fluid from her brain.
“The surgeon told us I had stage four glioblastoma after they found a tumor the size of my fist,” Giczey said. “He said he couldn’t remove it or operate as it was right on top of my brain stem, it was too close to critical areas.”
“The tumor was blocking the fluid in my brain from draining naturally and the build-up created pressure in my brain, which was causing my symptoms,” she explained. “Since I started feeling sick, I was convinced it was just an infection of some sort and I’d be put on antibiotics and everything would be fine. Instead, it was the worst-case scenario.”
Once her scars from surgery healed, Giczey underwent six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Despite the tumor shrinking to about half its size, in May 2021 a severe migraine left her without the ability to talk and a second tumor was found on her brain in an area that controls communication, hearing, taste, and breathing. The tumor also spread to parts of her spine.
Now, Giczey, who underwent an additional four weeks of radiation earlier this year and remains in stable condition, is getting chemo infusions every three weeks and set to have more radiation focusing on a tumor in her neck.
Despite her cancer setback, Giczey has remained optimistic during treatment and even married her high school sweetheart last year. As she continues to battle the disease she hopes to spread awareness of glioblastoma and the importance of paying attention to symptoms.
“Trust your gut… Write things down as well, so if there is a pattern and it’s not getting better, you have an idea of how long that’s been happening for,” she said. “You know your body best, and so if it doesn’t feel right to you, get it checked out.”
Glioblastoma grows rapidly and is located in the brain, the most protected part of the body. This means that surgery should be performed swiftly and there are few drugs that can even reach the tumor given the impenetrable blood/brain barrier.
What’s more, the cells are heterogeneous, meaning that each one must be individually targeted to slow tumor growth.
Additionally, surgery often can not remove all of the cancer because of the way the tumor burrows into the brain, so the tumor starts to grow again immediately after surgery.
The average survival rate is 15 months with treatment, and less than six if left untreated, according to the National Cancer Institute. And while there is a five-year-survival rate of approximately 6%, those individuals will never be cancer-free and must continue receiving radiation and chemotherapy for the rest of their lives.
How it Grows
The grade refers to how likely the tumor is to grow and spread, with grade 4 being reserved for only the most aggressive tumors.
In the case of glioblastoma, “the tumor’s cells are abnormal, and the tumor creates new blood vessels as it grows,” explains Dr. Weingart. “The tumor may accumulate dead cells in its core.”
And at this time, there is little more that is known about glioblastoma.
“Despite all the advances in treatment, we still don’t understand what causes GBMs,” says Dr. Weingart.
What is known is that glioblastoma is not hereditary, is diagnosed in adults more than children, and is slightly more common in men.
There are studies that have presented evidence that link the tumors to cell phone usage, exposure to radiation, or working in a rubber factory, but little else beyond that is known.
Symptoms of Brain Cancer
Symptoms of brain cancer really depend on the type of tumor, or glioma, but may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Confusion/decline in brain function
- Memory loss
- Personality changes/irritability
- Difficulty with balance
- Urinary incontinence
- Vision issues
- Speech difficulties
- If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t delay going to get checked immediately, especially if symptoms are rapidly worsening. With brain tumors especially, treating the matter with urgency can help save from life-threatening damage.
Optimism With Glioblastoma
Glioblastoma is incurable, however, it is treatable and there is more and more hope with patients living longer lives these days.
Dr. Henry Friedman, a renown neuro-oncologist at Duke Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet that there is indeed more optimism surrounding this disease.
Dr. Friedman and his Duke colleagues are investigating a new therapy that combines the modified poliovirus and immunotherapy to treat glioblastoma. “The modified poliovirus is used to treat this tumor by injecting it directly into the tumor, through a catheter. It is designed to lyse the tumor and cause the tumor cells to basically break up,” he explained.
“I think that the modified poliovirus is going to be a game-changer in glioblastoma,” Dr. Friedman added, “but I should also say that its reach is now extending into melanoma soon to bladder cancer.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff