Despite a four year battle with a malignant brain tumor, Jennifer Brumback is still grateful
By Charlie Patton,The Florida Times-Union
The last four years have been an ordeal for Jennifer Brumback and her family.
She has lived with a deadly and relentless brain tumor, and that battle has taken a difficult toll on her, her husband, Mike, and their sons, Thomas, 12, and Charlie, 8.
And yet the Brumbacks are grateful. They showed that gratitude last week when they presented a check for $18,000 to the St. Vincent’s Foundation, money to be used to help others who are battling brain tumors.
They also showed their gratitude when they traveled in April to Angels Among Us, the annual fundraiser for the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, to which they gave $25,000 for research.
In about five weeks, on Jan. 12, Jennifer Brumback will celebrate her 45th birthday. Six days earlier, she will observe a darker anniversary. Four years ago, on Jan. 9, 2010, she checked into the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside suffering from terrible headaches that just kept getting worse. Mike Brumback, a physician, thought the problem might be meningitis.
Jennifer knew it was something very bad when she was told, “We’re hoping you had a stroke,” she said in an interview after the check presentation ceremony at St. Vincent’s Riverside.
After tests, Ashutosh Pradhan, a neurosurgeon with St. Vincent’s Spine & Brain Institute, told her she almost certainly had a glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive malignant brain tumor whose presence usually meant a patient had only up to 15 months to live.
After researching possible treatments, the Brumbacks traveled to the Duke center, which has an affiliation with St. Vincent’s HealthCare. Six days after the diagnosis, Duke neurosurgeon Allen Friedman surgically removed Jennifer Brumback’s tumor. Then she got some good news. Her tumor had the right genetic markers to qualify her for a clinical trial being run by Duke neurosurgeon John Sampson.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments in Jacksonville, Jennifer returned to Durham in April 2010, to sign up for the ZAP-IT clinical trial. For more than two years, she made monthly trips to Durham, N.C., where she was injected with a vaccine. Regular MRIs brought the good news that the tumor hadn’t returned.
Then it did.
An MRI in April 2012 showed a new lesion in her right cerebellum. That ended her participation in the trial. But Jacksonville oncologist Sejal Kuthiala continued to treat her with drugs to control the tumor’s growth. In September 2012, a new lesion was found.
“It’s hard not to feel like I should apologize for this road we may again be headed down,” Jennifer wrote Sept. 24, 2012, on her page at www.caringbridge.org, a website where people undergoing medical treatment can provide updates. “I worry so much about wearing out my ‘cancer welcome’ if you can follow what I mean.”
As Jennifer continued to undergo chemotherapy and her doctors monitored the progress of her tumor using MRIs, the Brumbacks prepared for their Jennifer’s Hope Fund fundraiser, which took place on her 44th birthday at the Jacksonville Golf and Country Club. The event raised $56,000.
But last April, an MRI showed a recurrence of the tumor, forcing her doctors to change the drugs with which they were treating her. On Nov. 4, Mike Brumback posted more bad news on the caringbridge blog: “I am afraid Jennifer has continued to deteriorate,” he wrote about a woman who had once been a college professor.
Still, on Dec. 3, the day of the check presentation ceremony at St. Vincent’s, Jennifer made it a point to talk about the future. Her oldest son, Thomas, now says he wants to be a cancer researcher someday, she said. And she said she hopes she has contributed to research in some way.
“Whatever happens to me,” she said, “what I hope is that what I’ve been through, what I’ve learned, will help somebody else someday.”
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