Neuro-oncologists help more patients win brain cancer battle

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Steve Wolfe lived to tell about his darkest day.

“I took a nap on a couch and woke up in a different world,” he describes.

Wolfe’s wife called 911 when he was not able to answer any of her questions and was not acting like himself. He had a seizure, and tests confirmed the worst: glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and most aggressive malignant tumor.

2a3330ab44884b3da743eb7655108456“If you think about the name blastoma,” his voice trails off. “If you don’t even know what that means, it doesn’t sound good. It’s not good.”

Wolfe, who lives in Chester, was given 17 months to live even with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. It is now 37 months later.

“Double what we would have expected,” says Dr. Mark Malkin, who VCU Massey Cancer Center describes as the only board-certified neuro-oncologist in the region and one of the few in the state.

Dr. Malkin is the director of the specialized neuro-oncology program at Massey. Neuro-oncologists evaluate patients like Wolfe before and after treatment.

“Here you are, lying in the MRI scanner,” Dr. Malkin points out some recent results to Wolfe. “It’s stable. It’s not changing.”

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Studies like this one show the individual care plans devised by neuro-oncologists can boost quality of life along with survival.

“Trying to reintegrate into society, to get back to work, to have a normal family life again,” explains Dr. Malkin. “And they have these obstacles placed in front of them, and there’s a way to get around it.”

b4fa8ab87a20414887a35b6b418e592bWolfe is thankful for the progress he continues to make.

“I get stronger every day, and my memory is improving every day,” he says.

Wolfe also credits his strong faith for getting him through his battle.

“I’m obviously here for a purpose,” he says. “There’s something more that I’m supposed to do before I go home.”

Adds Dr. Malkin, “It’s something I can’t measure as a scientist, but if it gives him calmness and inner peace and confidence, then there has to be a beneficial effect on his immune system and that we can measure.”

Dr. Malkin urges anyone who notices symptoms of a brain tumor to seek medical attention.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology lists headaches as a main sign, especially those which are severe and worsen with activity in the early morning.  Also, watch out for muscle twitches, jerks and spasms.  Personality or memory changes may also indicate a brain tumor.