The Faces of Brain Cancer


When doctors announced that Sen. Edward Kennedy had a kind of brain cancer called malignant glioma, many people hearing the news had probably never heard of the cancer.

For some, however, the diagnosis was painfully familiar. WebMD talked to three survivors of brain cancer similar to that affecting the senator, including two who have survived it for more than 10 years. Their advice to Kennedy: Don’t listen to statistics, and don’t give up hope.

Here are their stories:

Jim Owens

Jim Owens, 46, Minneapolis, vice president of an engineering and construction firm for air conditioning and heating. Diagnosed originally with oligodendroglioma of the right parietal lobe in 1998; five recurrences since then, with diagnosis revised to a mixed or malignant glioma.

A long-time athlete, Jim says his love of sports, as well as his love for his wife and young son, now 8, keeps him fighting.

The first symptom came out of the blue. “I was training for a marathon and had a brain tumor.'”

He was taken into surgery, but then there was more bad news: “The tumor was wrapped around the motor strip,” says Jim, referring to the band running down the lobe of the clinical trial, and taking drugs approved for other cancers that might help his.”Every time I would have a recurrence, it would take a couple days to get myself standing up straight again,” he says.

He found renewed resolve each time.”The knees. ”’

“I only wanted strength — strength to endure whatever I had to endure.”She has had good news. “It’s been five years or more that the MRI came back with no change.”

“I would tell Sen. Kennedy not to give up. I wrote him a note, [advising him] not to listen to statistics. Because many things can happen.”

“I believe my recovery is a miracle.”

Sara Bennett

Sara Bennett, 60, office supply store employee, Elyria, Ohio. Diagnosed May 7 with left temporal lobe glioblastoma.

In her work for a large chain office supply store, Sara shows customers how the machines work. “I never had any problem when a customer was coming in to make a purchase. I could tell them anything about the product.”

Suddenly, that changed. “I’d be explaining a printer to a customer and halfway through the conversation, I’d lose my thought, I couldn’t explain it.”

Beginning in March 2008, she began to notice daily headaches, not typical for her.

By early May, she took a week off and got herself a thorough physical, a CT scan, and an MRI.

Her doctor then sent her to the Cleveland Clinic, where she got the bad news.

She underwent surgery in early May, and then during a checkup in the doctor’s office had seizures. Looking back, she realizes she had suffered seizures while working at the computer.

Soon, she will start radiation and chemo.

A widow who lost her husband in 1999 and has eight grown children, she is still in good spirits.”I don’t get down, I don’t let myself get down. It’s like I have an inner peace. The doctors and everyone I have talked to have been very honest. They have explained things 100 percent.”

Her religious faith helps keep her calm, she says. What also helps? She is convinced that “my husband has been watching out for me. That may sound strange to some people.”

But she believes it is true.

Kennedy’s strength — some of it, unfortunately, from dealing with so many family tragedies — will keep him going, Sara says. “He seems to have a very good outlook.”