Navigating Brain Cancer at AAMC

It was a Saturday morning when Dan Lunsford arrived at the emergency room with a headache and extreme fatigue. Four days later, the 58-year-old was undergoing surgery to remove a rapidly-growing malignant brain tumor.

“I coached Navy sailing, and I had been out with the Mids for a week or two in a row. When I came back, I was tired, but as [my wife] Jaye, told me, I was just sort of going to sleep. She said, ‘this isn’t like you, we’re going to the hospital.’ I don’t think I was cognizant enough to be afraid. I was able to walk, with her aid, into the hospital, sit down in a wheel chair and that’s about the last thing I remember.”

“We went from zero to 60 in three days,” says Jaye. Dan’s memory of the events surrounding his treatment is foggy, but Jaye recounts those days and weeks as a whirlwind of tests and medical procedures, meetings with doctors and questions that needed to be answered.

“It was overwhelming,” Jaye says, “and the person I usually lean on when I’m overwhelmed is Dan. So, having the nurse navigator was a really big deal for both of us. She took care of all the scheduling and tests, and answered all of my questions. Even questions such as ‘where do we go next?’ Having someone to coordinate both the medical and the human side of it made such a big difference.”

What Dan remembers about the time between entering the hospital and returning home after surgery is the moment his doctor told him the prognosis was not good. “That was actually an extremely positive thing,” Jaye says. “Knowing that the staff was telling us the real truth, and not downplaying the seriousness of the tumor, meant we were active partners in this battle. They trusted us to be adult about bad news, and that helped us to trust them back. Of course, it was lovely to be proved wrong, but it’s far less worrisome to know the worst case scenario, than to believe we’re being shielded and babied.

So, it was with open eyes that they tackled the hurdles ahead. After neurosurgeon Timothy Burke, MD, removed the tumor, Dan received seven days of radiation therapy using a special technology that uses precisely shaped beams of radiation to target the area to be treated without injuring the healthy surrounding tissue. Not long after, he was pronounced cancer-free.

Dan returns to his oncologist Peter Graze, MD, for regular follow-up, but after seven years, he remains cancer-free. He and Jaye have long since returned to cruising the 33-foot sailboat on which they’ve lived for more than ten years. Dan now watches the sunrise every morning —his way of celebrating the arrival of a new day.

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