A Father's Battle Against Glioblastoma
- Ryan Russell, 39, is a father and associate professor who was in excellent shape but kept getting recurring headaches. Initially believing them to be migraines, tests revealed he was suffering from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
- Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer for which there is currently no cure. It’s the most aggressive primary brain tumor. It’s perhaps best known as the form of brain cancer that claimed the lives of both Senator John McCain and President Joe Biden’s son, Beau.
- Russell is paying out of pocket to go to Germany for an experimental vaccine treatment. While he knows nothing is for sure, he is vowing to remain hopeful as he and his wife blog through their cancer journey.
Ryan Russell, a 39-year-old dad who described himself as “super healthy” first began experiencing the headaches in April. They followed a regular schedule, coming on after he had dropped his son off at school and then worked out.Read More
When he sought out medical care, the first doctor he saw believed they could be the result of an inner-ear problem or even COVID-19. A second doctor was also stumped. It wasn’t until he got a third opinion that he was sent for an MRI.
“If you’ve ever had an MRI, the expectation is you’re in, you pop out and the techs tell you, ‘Alright, we’ll contact you in a couple days with the results,’” Russell said. “When they pulled me out, the radiation oncologist was there and asked me to please come with him and I wasn’t able to go home.”
The MRI had detected three lesions on his brain. He was sent to hospital for further tests and, in May, underwent surgery to remove a piece of his skull to doctors could examine his brain. A tumor was removed for testing.
That’s when doctors were able to give an official diagnosis. Russell was suffering from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
While the prognosis was grim, Russell was determined to tackle the challenge ahead. He began speaking with leading doctors at hospitals around the country.
New Treatments Hold Promise For Glioblastoma Patients
Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer for which there is currently no cure. It’s the most aggressive primary brain tumor. It’s perhaps best known as the form of brain cancer that claimed the lives of both Senator John McCain and President Joe Biden’s son, Beau.
Brain cancer treatment options are broadening, thanks to newer cancer research. Duke University Medical Center neuro-oncologist Dr. Henry Friedman told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview there is progress being made in treatment of the disease.
Dr. Friedman his Duke colleagues are investigating a new therapy that combines the modified poliovirus and immunotherapy. “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 says.
“I think that the modified poliovirus is going to be a game-changer in glioblastoma,” explains Dr. Friedman, “but I should also say that its reach is now extending into melanoma soon to bladder cancer.”
While Russell received chemotherapy and radiation therapy as part of his treatment, he also opting to travel to Europe and pay out of pocket to receive an experimental vaccine treatment like the one Dr. Friedman described. The vaccine isn’t available in the United States as there has yet to be formal clinical trials here.
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Remaining Hopeful Despite Adversity
While Russell is due to travel to Germany for the vaccine in January, he said he remains hopeful despite the experimental nature. He said his doctors have told him his tumors have been growing slowly, which has allowed him to remain in good health, with no effects on his speech or ability to continue his work as an associate professor of graphic design at Penn State University.
As part of an effort to inspire other, he and his wife, Samantha, have been blogging through their cancer ordeal.
“I’ve had the real luxury of being very successful in my life… (but) I was always someone who was thinking about the next thing, and never celebrating, never enjoying what I was doing. And what this diagnosis gave me the opportunity to do was just re-prioritize and really start to think about: What is it that I want to do?” he said. “No more putting off till tomorrow because we don’t know what tomorrow is.”
Stay Positive, It Matters