Veterinary Student's Battle Against Glioblastoma
- Sunny Thukral, a 26-year-old who had never had a serious illness before, was studying at UC Davis Veterinary School when she started developing intense headaches that weren’t resolved with medicine. Initially believing her headaches and confusion were due to stress and a recent breakup, tests revealed she was suffering from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
- Glioblastoma, also called GBM, is the most aggressive brain tumor in adults. Although rare, this tumor can divide rapidly and grow quickly. It is incurable, but it can be managed with treatment.
- Despite being diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, Thukral has maintained hope and strives to beat the disease
- After undergoing surgery to remove most of the tumor, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy, Thukral is now on oral chemotherapy and various treatments like herbal supplements and cannabis. As per her most recent brain scan, her oncologist informed her that her tumor is continuing to shrink.
Sunny Thukral, a 26-year-old who had never had a serious illness before, was studying at UC Davis Veterinary School when she began developing intense headaches that weren’t resolved with medicine. Initially believing her headaches and confusion were due to stress, a recent breakup, and the grieving after her grandfather passed away, tests revealed she was suffering from stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.Read More
When Thukral’s headaches eventually worsened in the spring of 2022 she thought, “Maybe I just need some migraine medication.” She also dismissed her symptom of confusion as another physical reaction to the stress and grief she was feeling.
However, the pain and confusion never subsided and the tearful student ended up at an urgent care center where she received a life-changing CT scan.
“Holy sh*t, I’m going to die tomorrow. Tell everyone you love them,” Thukral recalled thinking when she learned about her stage 4 glioblastoma diagnosis about two days later.
After undergoing surgery to remove most of the tumor in June, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy, Thukral is now on oral chemotherapy and various treatments like herbal supplements and cannabis. And according to her most recent brain scan, her oncologist informed her that her tumor is continuing to shrink.
It has been five months since Thukral was diagnosed with glioblastoma and she has surpassed doctors’ expectations.
Now she’s hoping to spread awareness for brain cancer research funding and inspire others to stay positive, even when diagnosed with incurable cancer because anything is possible.
Thukral shared some of her cancer journey on TikTok, something which was unlike her before her glioblastoma diagnosis. She said the steroids she was taking to reduce brain inflammation led to her change in social media usage.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m getting all this attention for something terrible that’s happening. I’m gonna keep posting about it. It makes me feel better,'” Thukral explained. “My brain was working a million miles a minute.”
Now, she posts less on TikTok, but is happy to share her story and encourage others to not to listen to a negative prognosis.
She told Insider, “If you are given a diagnosis and a prognosis that you don’t like to hear, don’t listen. I’m not living my life on a timeline of two, three, four years. I am expecting to still get married. I’m going to have kids. I’m going to watch them grow up. I’m going to manifest that to happen.”
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.
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, neuro-oncologist at Duke Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet that there is indeed more optimism with the future of 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