Life's Milestones Gain Added Value Amid Cancer
- “Antiques Roadshow” star Theo Burrell, 37, is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Despite her diagnosis, she’s still enjoying all of life’s blessings and milestone moments with loved ones.
- Reaching milestones during or after a cancer battle is a big deal. Milestones may include things like getting engaged or reaching another birthday, except they may mean even more than they did previously. Hence, taking them all in is important, and celebrating all you’ve overcome is important.
- Burrell was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma brain tumor in 2022. She underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for treatment thus far. This kind of brain tumor “grows and spreads very quickly,” according to the National Cancer Institute. The average survival rate is 15 months with treatment and less than six if left untreated.
- Symptoms often associated with glioblastoma may include seizures, headaches, changes in speech, and difficulty balancing.
- Surgery often cannot remove all the glioblastoma because of the way the tumor burrows into the brain. However, treatment options exist for glioblastoma, offering much-needed hope, such as tumor-treating fields (TTFields), which use low-intensity electric fields, making it harder for cancer cells to flourish. Optune is a device a patient puts on their head that can extend a patient’s life by two years.
Resilient “Antiques Roadshow” star Theo Burrell, 37, says she’s not taking anything for granted, including all of life’s joyous moments, especially her young son’s birthday. Her smile is indicative of her positive spirit while battling grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM), which is an aggressive form of brain cancer. She revealed her recent scans have been stable despite the prognosis for GBM, which typically has an average survival rate of about 15 months with treatment.
“Birthdays are feeling like big milestones,” Burrell said earlier this Fall while celebrating her own birthday.
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“Getting older is something I’m actively chasing now! Although I don’t know what’s ahead, my glioblastoma (GBM) can’t take away the things I’ve already achieved,” Burrell continued in her Instagram post.
Just weeks after her birthday, her son Jonah celebrated his third birthday, which marks another joyful milestone for Burrell and her family.
“Another big day! My son, Jonah, is 3, and I’m here to see it!” Burrell wrote in a recent post.
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Undoubtedly, Burrell is taking time to cherish any milestone moments she’s blessed to enjoy. Among cancer patients, survivors, and their families, whether it’s childbirth, a wedding, a dream vacation, or, in Burrell’s case, another year around the sun, these are all noteworthy milestone moments. They gain added value because cancer patients often feel more gratitude toward their lives.
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An Emotional Brain Cancer Journey
Burrell revealed that she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in 2022.
Glioblastoma is considered a central nervous system (CNS) tumor. Burrell’s tumor is considered grade 4, which means her brain tumor “grows and spreads very quickly,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
The average survival rate is 15 months with treatment and less than six if left untreated, according to the National Cancer Institute. 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.
What makes glioblastomas so difficult to treat and manage is their cells are heterogeneous, meaning that each one must be individually targeted to slow tumor growth. Surgery also cannot remove all of the cancer because of the way the tumor burrows into the brain. This means the tumor starts to grow again immediately after surgery.
“Receiving my diagnosis, at the age of 35, when my son was one year old, was devastating,” Burrell previously told U.K.-based news outlet The Sun.
Burrell is among the team of experts that appear on the popular television show that comes from auction houses. The show has been around since 1979 and has had various iterations over the years. She appears on the British version of the show, which tours throughout the U.K., valuing various treasures and trinkets. She has been a part of the show since 2018.
However, she says things changed seemingly in a flash after her diagnosis.
“Overnight, everything had changed. Suddenly, I’d gone from being a healthy person in the middle of my life with a new baby to having incurable cancer with maybe only a year or two left to live,” Burrell said.
After being diagnosed, Burrell said she immediately underwent surgery to remove the tumor. She also had chemotherapy and radiation. She said in a recent interview since her diagnosis, she’s gone through the rigors of treatment.
“I’ve lost my hair, I’m no longer allowed to drive, and no longer able to work,” she said.
“What followed was months of surgery and treatment to try and prolong my life, and … I continue to make the best of each day,” Burrell added, saying she’s “doing quite well.”
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She recently gave supportive fans an update on her prognosis, which is filled with positivity.
“Good news! Another stable scan is under my belt. Long term, my GBM is still bad news; it will get me, but today we can celebrate another few months of life,” Burrell wrote in an Instagram post.
She added, “Never take the good things in your life for granted. Ever.”
What Are the Treatment Options for Glioblastoma?
Although glioblastomas are challenging to treat, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the drug temozolomide (brand name Temodar) was a massive breakthrough in helping patients with this aggressive disease.
Temozolomide is a chemotherapy drug patients can take after surgery and radiation. During radiation treatment, doctors use high-energy beams such as X-rays to target and kill cancer cells.
WATCH: Glioblastoma treatment options.
Dr. Daniel Wahl, professor of radiation and oncology at the University of Michigan, explains Temozolomide is an oral drug that works by “slowing down tumor growth.”
“Patients with GBM have effective treatment options; there are four of them: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and tumor targeting fields. These are electric fields that we can use to treat these cancers,” Dr. Wahl said.
Other FDA-approved drugs created to treat glioblastoma include lomustine (brand name Gleostine), intravenous carmustine (brand name Bicnu), carmustine wafer implants, and Avastin (brand name bevacizumab).
Avastin is a targeted drug therapy that blocks glioblastoma cells from requesting new blood vessels that feed and allow the tumor to grow.
“Outcomes for these patients are still suboptimal. What I tell my patients is that we have these effective treatments, but what they do is they delay the time to when this tumor comes back. Only in exceptional circumstances would we ever talk about getting rid of one of these cancers a few,” Dr. Wahl said.
Fortunately, research is ongoing to improve the prognosis for people battling glioblastoma. One area of promise is tumor-treating fields, which can help extend patients’ lives by two years on average, giving them hope.
Optune, the brand name for the tumor-treating fields delivery device, was launched in 2011 and approved by the FDA in 2015. It is a wearable and portable device for glioblastoma treatment for adult patients aged 22 years or older.
“There’s been a very exciting development of tumor treating fields, which are electrical fields that have been applied to the brain,” Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neurologist at Tufts Medical Center, previously told Survivor Net.
TTFields use low-intensity electric fields to disrupt the cell division process, making it harder for cancerous cells to multiply.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with glioblastoma, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- What stage is my brain cancer?
- What are the treatment options for my brain cancer?
- Am I a good candidate for temozolomide?
- Am I a good candidate for Optune?
- What are the risks and benefits of the recommended treatment?
- What are the side effects of the recommended treatment?
- How long will it take to recover from treatment, and will I be able to return to work and normal activities?
- What’s the likelihood that insurance will cover the recommended treatment?