Brain Tumor Diagnosis Helps Penfield Man Keep Life in Perspective

Novel Therapy at Wilmot Cancer Center Aids Man in Battling Tumor

May 03, 2004

David Cross’ goals are simple:  Live a long life, enjoy his family, see his three young children graduate from school, and hopefully spoil grandchildren.  Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor more than four years ago, he concentrates on the brighter aspects of his days.

“We’ve got our hands full with the three kids and I do the best that I can,” says Cross.  “I can’t keep all of them happy all the time, but I try.”

He is among hundreds in the Rochester area battling brain tumors and he will mark National Brain Tumor Awareness Week, May 2-7. The James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, Golisano Children’s Hospital  and Strong Memorial Hospital will celebrate with a family picnic at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 6, at Brighton Town Park.

Each year, more than 18,000 adults are diagnosed with malignant brain tumors.  This represents just over 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S.  Advances in treatments and technology are improving survival rates.

Cross, 36 at the time, recalls excruciating headaches in the months before his diagnosis. He just assumed it was stress from work and raising young kids with his wife, Karin.  Then he started having trouble remembering things and sometimes felt lost.

“I was having partial complex seizures, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I would print a document at work and walk over to the printer room to get it and not be able to remember how to get back to my office,” Cross says. 

In late October, the headache pain got so back that he went to the emergency room.  Diagnostic scans detected a large brain tumor – “about the size of a baked potato,” Cross remembers.

Surgery wasn’t possible, because the low-grade astrocytoma, a slow-growing tumor, had spread, like fingers, through his brain, says Ralph Brasacchio, M.D., radiation oncologist with the Wilmot Cancer Center.

Cross endured four weeks of radiation therapy, ending in late December 1999.  

Still reeling from the diagnosis and subsequent treatment, the Crosses were surprised to learn they were having a third child, to join their two sons – Mason, now 8, and Deven, 6.

The following summer, the family welcomed bright-eyed, curly-haired daughter, Lydia Hope.

The radiation treatment kept Cross’ brain tumor at bay for about three years.  However when he started experiencing the headaches and seizures again last summer, Cross had to get help.  A scan showed the tumor was active again.

“Very slowly it had started growing and it also had some “hot spots” that suggested that it was becoming a more aggressive tumor,” oncologist David Korones M.D., says.  He wanted to use chemotherapy to destroy the cells and suggested an investigational combination treatment that has shown promise in others with brain tumors. 

Korones is the first to investigate the effectiveness of temozolomide and etoposide, given together for patients with recurrent malignant glioma, the most common brain tumor in adults. Each drug, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, has been used separately with some success. But Korones noticed that laboratory data showed synergies between the two medications, and he theorized they may work better in tandem. 

Initial results are showing that a percentage of the patients are responding to the treatment, with tumor regression or no further growth.  However, Korones warns, additional study is needed. 

Although Cross’ tumor was initially diagnosed as a low-grade astrocytoma, those tumors often progress into more aggressive tumors and act like other types of tumors, Korones says.  That’s why he thought Cross would be a good candidate for the study.

Eight months into a year-long treatment study, Cross is tolerating the combination of drugs well and enjoys the ability to take the two capsules at home, rather than lengthy chemotherapy infusions. His headaches and seizures have stopped and the tumor has gotten smaller since the treatment started.

He does, however, suffer from short-term memory loss today, which makes returning to work at IBM a challenge. 

“I can’t remember numbers at all,” he says. “We’re not sure if it’s the tumor, medications or the radiation, or the combination of them all that causes the memory troubles.  So we have to take things as they go because everything’s worked out so far.  You just have to take life day-by-day and enjoy it.”

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