Enjoying life after brain cancer
These days, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), or brain cancer, is in the news more than ever.
For David Swan, the reports are especially personal. He recently celebrated a remarkable milestone: the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis. “When I was diagnosed, there was a 5% chance I’d survive five years.” Today, he’s connecting with others facing GBM as a CHN Support Volunteer. “Even though it’s hard to hear of some of the challenges I hear from multiple GBM patients, it not only makes me feel worthwhile, but fills my soul with joy.”
His diagnosis was as dramatic as the disease he faced – on the phone with a friend, he had a seizure and smashed his head on his desk. It was lights out – David woke up later that afternoon in his shower, surrounded by EMS and police officers. “One side of my body just stopped working and I couldn’t see out of my left eye. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my hospital, with my daughter holding my hand. She had been in England when I lost consciousness.”
Barely awake, his medical team urged immediate brain surgery. With the support of his friends and family, David consented. What they’d hoped was a benign growth was confirmed as GBM.
“There’s no sugar coating with this disease,” he recalls. “Everyone agreed surgery was what I should do. The next thing I remember, I was waking up with a bald spot and asking if I could die in my own bed.”
Fortunately for him – and the patients he supports today – that wasn’t in his near future. Doctors were soon discussing next steps as they created a treatment plan. Long a believer in the wisdom of the crowd and committed to the idea that more data is better, David gathered 18 of his closest friends and family together to discuss options. “My thinking power when they pulled a chunk out of my head was limited. They (his friends and family) all had laptops and posterboards and over a six-to-eight-hour period, we listed and planned and discussed my path forward.”
“The more people you talk to, the more things you experience, the more obvious the right answer becomes,” he says. “For me, the path forward was a combination of holistic and the gold standard treatment.”
A member of David’s “friends and family team” shared research showing benefits of beets on cognition and brain healing. Soon, this life-long hater of beets began juicing 10-plus pounds of beets each day. In tandem with the chemotherapy he was receiving, his mantra was simple: “Eat beets. Eat better. Get active.”
The lifelong learner and self-proclaimed “expert in things I’ve never done before,” David found wisdom and lessons in life with glioblastoma. He is happy to share his hard-won knowledge with GBM patients.
“This is the next chapter of your life. You have to embrace it.” For David, embracing that new chapter meant planning for the worst (setting his financial affairs in order, transferring ownership of his business to a trust and planning a party in lieu of a funeral) while hoping for the best (juicing beet after beet, enrolling in a clinical trial, juicing more beets.). It also meant discovering what is truly important.
“Before brain cancer, I was going through life making a living. My whole mantra was to create something that hadn’t been created before. Kids, family and friends were secondary to business. I know now that they are so much more important.”
David is planning to walk his daughter down the aisle later this year, a dream neither of them dared dream after his diagnosis. His life is focused on hope – encouraging others facing GBM to focus on the strides being made with research and treatment. And he is grateful.
“I wake up every single day and thank the Big Guy Above for giving me another day that I can walk around and stay above the ground. I am very fortunate. You really have to enjoy and appreciate every day.”