The Importance of Second Opinions & Staying Positive Through Cancer Treatment
- “Pretty Little Things” actor and ballet dancer Barton Cowperthwaite was diagnosed with stage two cancerous glioma after a “lemon”-sized tumor was discovered in the right frontal lobe of his brain.
- Despite his recent diagnosis, Cowperthwaite maintains hope and is certain he’ll return to his “brilliant” self after surgery and treatment.
- When you see a doctor for a problem, don’t hesitate to make sure that your questions are fully answered and that you are comfortable with the plan moving forward. By doing this, you are advocating for your health.
- Seeking a second or third opinion for your diagnosis and treatment plan is another aspect of advocating for your health and making sure you get the treatment you need.
- “A positive attitude is really important,” says Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
The 31-year-old Colorado native recently opened up about the “lemon”-sized tumor in the right frontal lobe of his brain and is certain he’ll return to his “brilliant” self after surgery and treatment.Read More
He captioned the post: “So…. Yesterday I was diagnosed with at least a stage 2 Glioma. It is a fairly decent sized brain tumor. The tumor’s cells originate in the brain, so it’s not spread from a cancer anywhere else in the body.View this post on Instagram
“The only course of treatment for something like this is brain surgery. Docs so far have been confident that they’ll be able to remove most of the tumor, and that after a successful operation, and some rehab, I will be operating like my (amazing, talented, brilliant, hilarious) self,” Cowperthwaite explained. “That being said it seems like scans and check ups will be apart of my life for its lengthy remainder.”
Cowperthwaite noted how he’s taking some time to get second opinions with the support of his family and expects to undergo surgery later this week.
“I’ll do my best to be open about the journey on here. I am planning on fully bouncing back to be better than my former glory! Please feel free to reach out and I’ll do my best to stay connected with as many people as I can,” he concluded.
In a followup video post, Cowperthwaite discussed the symptoms that led to his diagnosis, saying he experienced several seizures over the past eight weeks.
Cowperthwaite said his most recent seizure led him to the emergency room where he underwent a CAT scan “which discovered an abnormality,” prompting him to be sent to another facility for more testing.
An MRI ultimately revealed the “lemon”-sized tumor in his brain.
View this post on Instagram
Speaking of his brain tumor on his GoFundMe page, Cowperthwaite explained, “Doctors so far have said that it’s about the size of a lemon, and you know what they say, “when life gives you lemons… (have the tumor removed so we can) make lemonade!”
He continued, “The only course of treatment is surgery. Removing as much of this sucker as possible is the best way to ensure I get to continuing living a full and happy life. It’s also the only way we will be able to understand the severity or grade of the tumor.
Understanding Brain Cancer
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“I am currently interviewing with several different surgeons and facilities to decide what that best fit will be for treatment and recovery. It’s likely that I’ll need scans for the rest of my life, so I’m also looking for a place that gives off ‘good vibes’ for the long term.”
Cowperthwaite, who found it comical that his diagnosis followed the SAG-AFTRA strike coming to an end, said he’s hoping to put any money raised toward “medical expenses not covered by insurance, rent, food, family travel, lodging, recovery, PT, rehab, future scans, at home care, unexpected costs, and more.”
View this post on Instagram
He concluded on his GoFundMe page, “Along with social media, I’ll be using this site to share updates on my progress and recovery. I know I’m not alone. I’m going to do my absolute best to respond to all the messages personally.
“My fiancé Sophie (literal angel on earth), my parents, my siblings, and my besties will all be picking up the slack. I have full confidence that this is just an unexpected obstacle on my path toward achieving my MANY lofty goals. Please know how grateful I am already. I love you!
Understanding Cancerous Glioma
“Glioma is a common type of tumor originating in the brain. About 33 percent of all brain tumors are gliomas, which originate in the glial cells that surround and support neurons in the brain, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells,” Johns Hopkins Medicine explains.
“Gliomas are called intra-axial brain tumors because they grow within the substance of the brain and often mix with normal brain tissue.”
There are various types of gliomas, but the one Cowperthwaite is battling is “at least” a stage 2 glioma.
Symptoms that arise from gliomas come from the tumors pressing on the brain or spinal cord. Johns Hopkins lists the most common symptoms as:
- Personality changes
- Weakness in the arms, face or legs
- Problems with speech
Other symptoms may be:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision loss
Staying Positive & Overcoming Adversity
Getting a cancer diagnosis and going through the treatment process can be incredibly stressful. It’s completely normal to feel anxious, scared, sad, and so much more. The disease is a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
One way to get your mental health back in check after a diagnosis is to try to play up your strengths, Dr. Samantha Boardman, a New York-based psychiatrist and author, tells SurvivorNet.
“I sometimes will ask patients, tell me about yourself when you were at your best,” she explains. “Using that story, trying to figure out what strengths come to mind â€¦ is it patience? Is it appreciation of beauty? It is perseverance? [Then we can] use those strengths in constructive ways to navigate their cancer journey.”
Dr. Boardman says another way to approach harnessing the strength you already have is by tapping into your values. This could be family, close friendships, spirituality, or commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Reminding yourself of what your values are and how you are living accordingly is another way to unleash that inner strength.
Lastly, patients shouldn’t underestimate the value of simply opening up, Dr. Boardman says. This could mean speaking to a close family member or friend, or it could mean seeking support in other ways by finding a therapist that meets your needs or looking into joining a support group.
Having negative feelings throughout your cancer journey is to be expected, however, doctors will tell you that people who find a way to work through the emotions and stay positive tend to have better outcomes.
“A positive attitude is really important,” says Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
The Importance of Getting a Second Opinion
After receiving a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to remember that you can, and should, talk to other cancer specialists about your disease, just as Cowperthwaite is doing.
“If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care,” National Cancer Institute Chief of Surgery Steven Rosenberg told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “Because finding a doctor who is up to the latest of information is important.”
As we highlight in several areas of SurvivorNet, highly respected doctors sometimes disagree on the right course of treatment, and advances in genetics and immunotherapy are creating new options.
Also, in some instances the specific course of treatment is not clear cut. That’s even more reason why understanding the potential approaches to your disease is crucial.
At the National Cancer Institute, there is a patient referral service that will “guide patients to the right group depending on their disease state so that they can gain access to these new experimental treatments,” Rosenberg says.
Furthermore, getting another opinion may also help you avoid doctor biases. For example, some surgeons own radiation treatment centers. “So there may be a conflict of interest if you present to a surgeon that is recommending radiation because there is some ownership of that type of facility,” Dr. Jim Hu, director of robotic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet.
Other reasons to get a second opinion include:
- To see a doctor who has more experience treating your type of cancer
- You have a rare type of cancer
- There are several ways to treat your cancer
- You feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you, or isn’t giving you good advice
- You have trouble understanding your doctor
- You don’t like the treatment your doctor is recommending, or you’re worried about its possible side effects
- Your insurance company wants you to get another medical opinion
- Your cancer isn’t improving on your current treatment
Bottom line, being proactive about your health could be a matter of life or death. Learn as much as you can from as many experts as you can, so that you know that you did your best to take control of your health.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you find yourself considering seeking a second or third medical opinion, here are some questions to kickstart the conversation with your doctor:
- Is there any other testing available for the type of cancer I have?
- Are there any other treatment options available for my type of cancer?
- Why or why do you not recommend those other options?
- I would like to seek a second opinion on my diagnosis and treatment options. Is there another doctor or facility you recommend?
- Do you want the second opinion to be sent to you?
- Can I have a copy of all my records that I can share with this second physician?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff