Even through brain cancer treatment, MD Anderson employee keeps smiling

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braincancersurvivorGBG.JPGChances are you've worked with someone like Gail Goodwin, a program manager in MD Anderson's External Communications office. She's the one in the office who cheers everyone up with her easy smile and sunny disposition, likely to break into song at a moment's notice.

Goodwin is also a brain cancer survivor.

April Fool's to remember

On April 1, 2009, a co-worker stopped by Goodwin's office to ask several questions, but got no response. She knew something was very wrong when she noticed Goodwin was not talking, which Goodwin points out is a rarity for her.

"My brain was playing a really bad April Fool's joke on me," Goodwin says with her signature sense of humor.

Immediately, Goodwin's office mates called 911. Since her symptoms pointed to a possible stroke, the paramedics took her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. But over the next couple of days, she was diagnosed with a stage III oligodendroglioma, a rare malignant brain tumor.

"Once I found out I had cancer, I got back to MD Anderson as quickly as I could," Gail says.

A dream team
Team Gail quickly rallied to offer casseroles and emotional support. Her extended family and friends were at her side constantly, often crowding into the exam room to offer support.

Goodwin says her oncologist Charles Conrad, M.D., professor, Department of Neuro-Oncology, and surgeon Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., associate professor, Department of Neurosurgery, spent hours patiently answering everyone's questions.

A couple of weeks later, Goodwin had a 14-hour surgery, utilizing MD Anderson's high-tech Brainsuite®, to remove most of the tumor, which doctors say was about the size of a lemon.

"Gail's surgery was complicated, but with the aid of our technology we were able to remove almost all the tumor without causing neurological issues," Weinberg says.

"I am so grateful for my dream team," Goodwin says. "I call Dr. Weinberg the Man with the Golden Hands."

Chemotherapy followed surgery
After surgery, a multidisciplinary group of experts from the Brain and Spine Cancer Center determined the best treatment for Goodwin. She took the oral chemotherapy drug Temodar® for 16 months.

"When Gail began to have side effects with the Temodar, we switched to Accutane®, a drug that sometimes is used to treat acne," Conrad says. "So far, that is working well for her."

"I was able to return to work two months after my diagnosis," Goodwin says. "Truthfully, I just didn't think about it all that much. I knew everything was going to be OK."

Laughing through cancer

Goodwin has cognitive testing every six months to check her memory and brain function, and she has an MRI every three months. She's healthy, and she looks forward to many more years, living the life she loves - especially spending more time with her grandchildren after she retires.

With characteristic warmth and candid humor, she writes about her experiences - the ups and downs of survivorship, including a recent bout with shingles -- on MD Anderson's blog, Cancerwise.

"You never want to have a reason to go to MD Anderson, but when you need it, it's the only place to be," Goodwin says. "I feel good every day that I work here and am so grateful for the care I received."

Find out more about brain tumors.

Read more about Gail Goodwin.

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