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The Faces of Brain Cancer

Three survivors of brain cancer similar to that affecting Sen. Edward Kennedy tell how they're coping.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

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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 seizure at the end of a workout," he says of that day in 1998, right before the tumor was found. "I had no idea what it was. Half my body went numb."

Thankfully, friends who were with him insisted he go to the hospital immediately, despite his protests that he was fine and it was nothing. After a battery of tests, Jim was told nothing that night. "It wasn't until early the next afternoon the doctor said, 'It's bad. You have 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 brain that controls bodily movements.

So they presented the next options: radiation and chemotherapy.The tumor began shrinking, and Jim kept fighting. He got married. A year after the diagnosis, he competed in the Ely Wilderness Trek, a 15-kilometer cross-country ski race. "I finished, but it wasn't pretty," he says, laughing.

He and his wife, Barb, welcomed a son, Max, in August 1999.

Jim has had multiple recurrences, beginning in January 2003, fighting each time by seeking out multiple opinions, agreeing to join a 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 cancer is not going to run my life. I am going to reclaim my life and live my life."

"I'm having the best spring I've had in years," he says. With his brother, he is training for the Ride for Roses in Austin in October, an event sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. In 2004, he rode with Armstrong, a cancer survivor, on a coast-to-coast benefit bike tour.

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