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Leaning on family support to navigate diagnosis challenges

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Since Mike Hugo’s (right) glioblastoma diagnosis, he is making time with his wife and kids (pictured) a priority to make memories with them while he still has time. This article is sponsored by Novocure.

Since Mike Hugo’s (right) glioblastoma diagnosis, he is making time with his wife and kids (pictured) a priority to make memories with them while he still has time. This article is sponsored by Novocure.

Every year, a family’s reality is turned upside down when they are faced with a cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis forces the family to evaluate many overwhelming situations and unfamiliar challenges together. This is what happened to the Hugo family when Mike was suddenly diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive form of brain cancer.

There wasn’t much on Mike’s dream board that he hadn’t accomplished, from a former all-state football player, racing in dozens of marathons and Ironman triathlons, as well as scuba diving, skydiving and piloting. But GBM has focused the ambitions of a very ambitious man. Mike was driving home from a work event and crashed his car because he experienced a seizure which led to the discovery of a brain tumor the size of a tangerine and, ultimately, his GBM diagnosis.

While GBM is rare, it is the most common type of primary brain cancer in adults.1 Most people get GBM tumors in their cerebral hemispheres – the left and right halves of the brain that control reading, thinking, speech, muscle movement, and emotions.2,3 Rarely, GBM can also appear in the brain stem or spinal cord.4 There are about 15,000 people diagnosed with GBM each year in the United States.5

Following his diagnosis, surgeons removed as much of Mike’s brain tumor as they could without impairing his cognition. Within three weeks, however, his tumor had grown back to about a third of its size. This is when the support of his wife helped him navigate the treatment landscape and determine which options were the best fit for him and their family.

His wife, a clinical researcher in cranial and spinal technologies, dove deep into the literature to explore his treatment options. Mike reached out to his connections in the neurosurgical and neuro-oncological community for their advice. Together, they devised an aggressive strategy, and he began various outpatient treatments. This is how they learned about Optune Gio, a wearable, portable, FDA-approved device indicated to treat GBM in adult patients 22 years of age or older. The device works by creating Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields), which are alternating electric fields delivered at a unique frequency that allows it to selectively disrupt GBM cell division. TTFields therapy attacks GBM cells where they're vulnerable, interfering with mitosis to disrupt cancer cell division, and ultimately can destroy cancer cells. When used together with standard of care chemotherapy in a large clinical study, this innovative treatment has been shown to improve survival outcomes in patients with newly diagnosed GBM, without adding systemic toxicities.

GBM tumors often penetrate sensitive areas of the brain responsible for vital neurologic processes, meaning it is not often possible to completely remove a GBM tumor with surgery.6 GBM is an aggressive debilitating cancer that is challenging to control and typically causes progressive neurological symptoms over time which makes it difficult to treat and early detection is nearly impossible.6

Mike approached his doctor proactively with the clinical data and they incorporated TTFields into his treatment plan. Since then, Mike is encouraged by how he’s feeling and remains active. He rides an electric bike, runs on the treadmill and sometimes joins his wife for 3-mile jogs around their neighborhood.

While the diagnosis has been difficult, Mike is also realistic about his chances of living to see his daughters, who are in early elementary school, become adults. This has motivated him to think of ways to remain as a strong presence in their lives as they grow up, whether he will be there for them or not.

“It’s very hard to imagine every scenario where my kids might turn to me for advice in the next 30 years, but that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “How can I be there for them when stuff like that happens?”

Mike is savoring this time with his family. He and the girls recently snorkeled with dolphins in the Florida Keys, took a trip to Alaska and he has watched both his daughters fall in love with reading and playing the piano. Mike appreciates each additional day he gets to hug his daughters and take them to school. Mike hopes they notice how he and Vanessa treat one another so that they have a good sense of what healthy marriages look like.

“As a father, I'm just thinking constantly about, with the time I have left, how do I take care of them?” Mike says.

All that said, Mike is grateful that he is healthy enough to raise awareness of GBM, the innovative therapies being developed to fight it.

In newly diagnosed GBM, TTFields is proven to help people with GBM live longer at 2 years. In a large clinical study, people who added TTFields to chemotherapy had a greater opportunity to live longer than those who used chemotherapy alone.7

“This is an opportunity for me to cover all my bases and share some life lessons,” he said. “This is a chance to make memories with my girls. This is a blessing.”

The most common side effects of Optune Gio when used together with chemotherapy to treat newly diagnosed GBM are low blood platelet count, nausea, constipation, vomiting, tiredness, scalp irritation from the device, headache, seizure, and depression. The most common side effects when using Optune Gio alone to treat recurrent GBM are scalp irritation (redness and itchiness) and headache. Other side effects are malaise, muscle twitching, fall and skin ulcers. For more information, please see Optune Gio Instructions for Use.

Optune Gio is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor if you have an implanted medical device (programmable shunt), skull defect (missing bone with no replacement), bullet fragment or a known sensitivity to conductive hydrogels. Do not use Optune Gio if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

If you or a loved one is affected by GBM, speak with your doctor to learn more about Optune Gio and how to incorporate this therapy into a treatment plan. Learn more at OptuneGio.com.

References:

  1. Ostrom QT, Patil N, Cioffi G, et al. CBTRUS Statistical Report: Primary Brain and Other Central Nervous System Tumors Diagnosed in the United States in 2013-2017. Neuro Oncol. 2020; 30;22(12 Suppl 2):iv1-iv96. doi: 10.1093/neuonc/noaa200.
  2. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Glioblastoma Multiforme. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Glioblastoma-Multiforme. Accessed September 27, 2023.
  3. National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cerebral-hemisphere. Accessed September 27, 2023
  4. Davis ME. Glioblastoma: Overview of Disease and Treatment. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2016;20(5 Suppl):S2-S8. doi:10.1188/16.CJON.S1.2-8.
  5. Ostrom QT, Cioffi G, Gittleman H, et al. CBTRUS Statistical Report: Primary Brain and Other Central Nervous System Tumors Diagnosed in the United States in 2012-2016. Neuro Oncol. 2019;21(Suppl 5):v1-v100. doi:10.1093/neuonc/noz150
  6. Lara-Velazquez M, Al-Kharboosh R, Jeanneret S, et al. Advances in Brain Tumor Surgery for Glioblastoma in Adults. Brain Sci. 2017;7(12):166. doi:10.3390/brainsci7120166.
  7. Stupp R, Taillibert S, Kanner A, et al. Effect of Tumor-Treating Fields Plus Maintenance Temozolomide vs Maintenance Temozolomide Alone on Survival in Patients With Glioblastoma. JAMA. 2017;318(23):2306-2316. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.18718