By Tomise Martin, Staff Writer
When Patrick Williams was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme, the three constants he'd always cherished -- family, laughter and colleagues -- helped him cope.
A 27-year veteran of the fire department in Ocean Spring, Miss., he recalls feeling lightheaded and unable to find his balance one day after a staff meeting.
"I couldn't focus, and I needed to brace against a wall for support," Williams recalls. "All I wanted was to go home and take a nap."
Luckily a friend and colleague, trained as a registered nurse, noticed Williams' difficulty and quickly reacted.
"Initially, he and I joked about me slowing everyone down," Williams says. "The banter turned to concern once he heard my symptoms."
As the colleague was taking him to a local hospital, Williams had a seizure. Tests showed he had a brain tumor and would need surgery. It was unknown whether the tumor was cancerous or non-cancerous.
"When anyone mentions cancer, my family thinks of M. D. Anderson," Williams says. "There was no question about my next step."
His first appointment
Days later, surrounded by a group of friends and family, Williams arrived for his first M. D. Anderson appointment.
His surgeon, Sujit Prabhu, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, told him the tumor was stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, the most common form of brain cancer, and was located in his right parietal lobe. Prabhu explained that the side effects from surgery could include blurry vision, impaired spatial orientation and headaches.
Three days later, Williams emerged from surgery unable to see images to the far left.
"If a board read 'nurse manager,' I would only see 'n rs m nager,'" Williams says.
Although Prabhu described the possible side effects very clearly, Williams felt unprepared for the outcome. He still considers the experience unreal.
With a team of brain cancer experts, including a neurosurgeon, neuro-oncologist and a radiation oncologist, Williams benefited from M. D. Anderson's multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.
After surgery, he met with Monica Loghin, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology. She checked his neurological functions and discussed the remaining treatment options -- chemotherapy, radiation and clinical trials.
"With chemotherapy and radiation still available, I had no desire to try the third option," Williams says.
Loghin prescribed Temodar® (temozolomide), an oral therapy found to be effective for some patients with glioblastoma multiforme, and referred Williams to Anita Mahajan, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncoloy, for radiation therapy.
To complete his radiation treatments, Williams moved to Houston. While the side effects of treatment were hair loss and nausea, his spirits stayed high with frequent family outings and dining at his favorite restaurants.
Try, try again
During a follow-up appointment with Loghin about six weeks later, Williams learned that the brain cancer had not responded to chemotherapy. As a result, he chose to join a Phase II clinical trial studying the effectiveness of XL184, an investigational drug, on glioblastoma multiforme.
In January 2009, he received the good news that some tumors had disappeared or stopped growing.
Life as a brain cancer survivor
Life has changed. Williams has retired as fire chief of the Ocean Springs fire department and his energy level has dropped. But his vision has cleared enough so he's able to drive again on a limited basis.
"I plan activities with their needed recovery time," Williams says. "One day of fishing is followed by two days of rest."
But he doesn't let these new details hamper life. He's usually cracking jokes or surrounded by his friends and family. A brother-in-law always accompanies him to follow-up appointments, which are every four weeks.
"I'm fortunate to have the love and support of my family," Williams says. "Life is what you make of it. I choose to live mine filled with laughter and surrounded by my loved ones."
Q&A: Coping With a Brain Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
M. D. Anderson resource:
Brain and Spine Center
Brain Tumors (American Cancer Society)
Brain Tumor (NCI)
Love and Support Help Gulf Coast Resident Cope With Brain Cancer
By Tomise Martin, Staff Writer
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