Herbert Cooley

Feb. 27, 2020

Herbert Cooley doesn’t have any tattoos, but he jokes that he’s considered getting one right on his forehead that reads: First responders, take me to Strong.

The Penn Yan resident ended up at Strong Memorial Hospital in 2018 after waking up with a tremendous headache. He went to Geneva General Hospital and from there, a helicopter brought him directly to Strong.

Turns out, he was having a stroke. He doesn’t remember the helicopter ride, but he does remember being told he had a 1 in 10 chance of survival.

Thankfully, he beat those odds and he largely credits his team at Strong and Wilmot Cancer Institute for that. When he arrived, his neurosurgeon, Kevin Walter, M.D., removed a half-liter of blood from his brain.

“He saved my life the first time,” Herbert says.

MRIs showed a problem, so Dr. Walter performed a biopsy and found that Herbert had glioblastoma. The tumor had been the cause of his stroke.

Despite this devastating news, Herbert insisted on remaining positive and maintaining a sense of humor.  

“You’ve got two choices. You can go down the rat hole or you can fight, and I’m Irish,” he says with a laugh.  

Dr. Walter recommended surgery to remove the tumor, and Herbert agreed. Afterward, he experienced paralysis on the left side of his body but rehabilitation helped. He still has a blind spot on the left-hand side, but it’s improving.

In addition to surgery, he enrolled in a clinical trial with his neuro-oncologist, Joy Burke, M.D., to test a new drug called veliparib. The drug is a PARP inhibitor that’s currently used for some other cancers, including some breast cancers, ovarian cancer and some lung cancers. Researchers want to know if it might be able to help those with brain cancer, too.

As a retired research technician — he worked at Cornell University in the Food Science department for almost 40 years — Herbert knows how important clinical trials are to finding better cancer treatments. He wanted to help.

“We’re all in this together. Let’s give it a shot,” he says. “How else are we supposed to find out?”

He couldn’t help but think about the people who could be helped in the future by his clinical trial participation today.

“They just asked me if I would be interested, and my feeling is that, if there’s something we can try, oh yeah, I’m in,” he says. “If we can find something out so the young woman who gets this that has two little kids and can see her kids graduate from high school... Oh yeah, I’m playing in this game, coach.”

In addition to the chemotherapy he had with the clinical trial, Herbert wore the Optune cap and had radiation therapy with Kenneth Usuki, M.D. Herbert had experienced nausea, but anti-nausea medication helped. He also felt tired all the time.

“They told me this was going to happen. You’re going to feel like sleeping all day, but don’t,” he says. “Get up and do stuff.”

So, he started going to a gym near home. He meets his 92-year-old father for breakfast often, and tries to see him daily. He believes staying active has made a difference in his recovery.

And his recent MRIs have shown good news: No signs of cancer.

Herbert credits this outcome to many factors — his faith, a supportive family, physical activity, and, of course, his caring team here at Wilmot Cancer Institute at Strong Memorial Hospital.

“I couldn’t possibly be happier,” he says. “I trust these people with everything.”