Hope Comes in Many Forms for Patients With Cancer

For many with glioblastoma, there’s no clear path after standard therapy, but scientists are exploring an array of new options.
BY TARA HAELLE
PUBLISHED: JULY 21, 2017
It is frustrating not
having more tools
to try to attack
and make sure
it doesn’t come
back, and I think
that’s what the
doctors feel, too
— there’s a limited
number of tools
they can use.” <br>
— MICHAEL YUTKIN,
patient
It is frustrating not having more tools to try to attack and make sure it doesn’t come back, and I think that’s what the doctors feel, too — there’s a limited number of tools they can use.”
— MICHAEL YUTKIN, patient
PHOTO BY MARIESAM SANCHEZ 
Some people first learn they have brain cancer after they have suffered a violent seizure or nearly stopped breathing. Sen. John McCain learned about his tumor after telling his doctor at a routine check up that he’d been tired and seeing double. That led to the discovery of a mass that doctors thought was a blood clot but turned out to be glioblastoma, a malignant, fast-growing cancer that arises from stem or stem-like cells in the brain. McCain was diagnosed July 14 with the cancer, which can affect thinking, emotions, personality and even the body’s ability to perform basic functions.

In 2017, about 24,000 people will learn they have brain cancer, the National Cancer Institute estimates.

Michael Yutkin probably didn’t think “brain cancer” when he was on a business trip in Chicago in August 2012 and woke up with “the worst headache of my life.” Nevertheless, it turned into the worst health challenge of his life.

He went to the emergency department, and a scan found a bleed on his brain with a mass behind it. A few days after his wife and two young children flew in from his home in Irvine, California, a craniotomy and a biopsy led to a diagnosis of glioblastoma, a grade 4 glioma, in his right occipital lobe.

Yutkin, now 44, enrolled in a clinical trial at UCLA testing the effectiveness of Velcade (bortezomib) — a targeted drug already approved for multiple myeloma — while receiving the standard of care: surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation and chemotherapy with Temodar (temozolomide).

McCain, too, is considering standard-of-care treatment with radiation and chemotherapy.

Yutkin took both Temodar and Velcade over the next two years and responded well to treatment. Things seemed to be going well for him, but six months after he stopped taking Temodar, a drop in his platelets forced him to also stop taking Velcade. Almost a year later, his cancer progressed. More radiation and Temodar brought it under control, and Yutkin’s MRI scans looked stable from December 2016 through this June, when tumor enhancement was seen.

Yutkin has no new symptoms, and he and his doctors are waiting for one of two vaccine/immunotherapy trials to open. In the meantime, with so few effective therapeutic options for glioblastoma in general, Yutkin exists in a sort of limbo.

“Right now, I’m not on chemo or anything, but that’s one of the most frustrating things,” he says. “I want to be fighting this as much as possible to make sure it doesn’t come back, and until or if there’s ever a recurrence, there’s really nothing for me to be on.” 

He recently began a ketogenic, or low-carb, diet through UCLA to feel like he was doing something potentially beneficial, and he has followed a supplements program put together by Nutritional Solutions, in Utah. He also believes that daily exercise has helped him in his battle. Beyond those efforts, Yutkin simply stays focused on his family and tries not to think too much about the disease — there’s not much else he can do. 
 
Among the treatments ROBERT MITCHELL is using for his glioblastoma is Optune, which applies tumor-treating fields directly to the head. - PHOTO BY AMELIA BEAMISH
Among the treatments ROBERT MITCHELL is using for his glioblastoma is Optune, which applies tumor-treating fields directly to the head. - PHOTO BY AMELIA BEAMISH


Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Brain Cancer CURE discussion group.
x-button
 
CURE wants to hear from you! We are inviting you to Share Your Story with the readers of CURE. Submit your personal experience with cancer by visiting Share Your Story
 
Not yet receiving CURE in your mailbox? Sign up to receive CURE Magazine by visiting GetCureNow.com
x