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Virginia & Donald Maxwell
On October 6, 2017, at 38 years old, my husband Dave, who just reached twenty years on Active Duty, was diagnosed with an Astrocytoma and Glioblastoma mixed brain tumor. A month prior he was having excruciating headaches, neck pain, passing out on the floor, seeing helicopters in his eyes, not eating much, etc. He had brain surgery on October 11, 2017, then started Chemotherapy and radiation shortly after. Dave took Temodar for a few weeks, and when he had labs drawn, the doctor saw the Temodar had wiped out Dave's immune system, and he ended up in the hospital in the Neutropenic Unit in December 2017. While in the hospital, Dave’s levels were still deficient and were not coming back up and the doctors decided to do a bone marrow biopsy. He also had several platelet and blood transfusions. Everything looked good; it would just take some time for his levels to come back up. Dave was put on a few different medications to help with the process. Dave had to go for weekly labs to check and make sure his levels were not getting any lower. Dave continued to get platelet transfusions for several months after this hospital stay.
The tumor continued to have regrowth, so our Radiation Oncologist recommended an Optune device for Dave. Dave wore the Optune device twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Besides his wife and son, that was his pride and joy. Dave was lonely staying home by himself because I was working full-time and our son was in school. Dave kept saying he needed a dog companion to keep him busy during the day. In July, we decided to get a six-week-old puppy from Hope for Life Rescue and Dave was in his glory. She was his baby girl. He took excellent care of her.
In July 2018, the tumor continued to grow back, so our Oncologist referred Dave to Duke University. Dr. Friedman said Dave was a candidate for the Polio trial. Polio was Dave's dream to help him beat the tumor. He had been researching the Polio Trial for months. In August, we went to Charleston, South Carolina and on a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas where we all had so much fun! We were so thankful that we were able to take a family vacation because we did not take very many family vacations. Dave enjoyed himself to the fullest- eating and drinking (regular and alcoholic beverages) anything that was available to him. Seeing the smile on his face was enough for our son and me.
On September 3, 2018, we arrived in North Carolina for Dave to start the polio trial. He began preparation on September 4, 2018, and received the infusion on September 6, 2018. Dave was so excited for this moment! Shortly after receiving the infusion we noticed Dave’s left hand and fingers were curling. I saw it was getting a little worse each time we went back to see Dr. Desjardins and the team. We left Duke University toward the end of September to come back to Virginia Beach, Va. Early October, we headed back to Duke University for two days for Dave to get his first MRI since the infusion. The results were in, and the Polio already started to eat away at the tumor. Dr. Desjardins called it “The Swiss cheese effect.” I remember Dave and me feeling a sigh of relief with this great news.
Dave started to have typical symptoms like headaches, neck pain, eye pain, and even a little weakness on his left side. Dave ended up in the hospital in October for his symptoms of deficiency on the left side, and the doctor diagnosed him with Hemineglect on his left hand and leg. We were crushed by hearing the news, but we did not let that stop us! We continued to fight! We would not let anything stop us from fighting! I decided to take long-term illness leave from work to care for Dave. The was the best decision I could have made. We knew Dave would hit rock bottom with the infusion and thought this was his rock bottom. He started receiving weekly treatments from the nurse, Physical therapy, Occupational therapy, and Speech therapy.
We went back in November for Dave’s MRI’s to see how the tumor was doing and got the best news- Polio was eating away at cancer. But there was also some swelling and inflammation in there the doctors would have to watch. Dave began to get Avastin through the IV every three weeks for the inflammation and swelling. We were both so ecstatic with the news about the tumor decreasing, but it was a roller coaster with Dave. He would have good moments, then bad moments. We went back to Duke University on December 30, 2018, to get another MRI. That MRI revealed the same thing- Polio was still eating away at the tumor, but there was a lot of inflammation and swelling. Dave was put on a new medication and had two seizures within two weeks of each other. He ended up back in the hospital in January 2019 for a week due to extreme headaches, neck pain, and eye pain.
I remember the doctor in the E.R. explaining to us how severe the inflammation and swelling was and telling us the outcome did not look good. Dave got a CT scan, and it showed there was a lot more inflammation and swelling along with some bleeding – and the brain stem had shifted due to all of that. The doctors were able to get things under control with a higher dose of Decadron and Dilaudid. This hospital stay was very scary for both of us. He was released a week later. Things were not the same since that hospital stay. I saw Dave starting to go down-hill pretty fast. He could not move his left arm at all and could barely move left leg. It was sad for our son and me to watch.
Dave ended up back in the hospital for one night again in January where the doctors thought he had a blood clot, but thankfully it turned out to not be one. I noticed Dave was starting to get more and more agitated with people and things. He would get upset because I was told to regulate what he was drinking because his sodium was getting low. The weekly appointments, Physical therapy, and Occupational therapy were becoming exhausting for him. Dave fell two times while I was out with friends and knew he was doing it because he was scared something would happen when I was not there. At our last appointment with our Oncologist, Dave said he wanted to live comfortably. He did not wish to have anyone to regulate what he would drink and wanted to drink and eat whatever he wanted. I knew he was exhausted from everything. It broke my heart to see my husband so weak and tired.
All of Dave’s medical care team provided Dave with the top of the line care. We were all motivated by the diagnoses to fight this Glioblastoma. Dave's battle ended on February 18, 2019. He fought long and hard for sixteen months, and we are all so proud of how strong he was and how hard he fought the Glioblastoma. He has me, our son, and numerous family and friends that are here to help advocate for him. There is a special meaning behind our team name. The evening before passing away, Dave began to take his hospital gown off. We asked Dave why he was undressing and told him he needed to keep his gown on. Dave replied "Getting jiggy with it." I love that he was still so positive even in his final hours. If there is one thing I would say to people who get diagnosed with cancer, it would be “Continue to stay positive, and you will overcome all the hurdles that come your way.” Dave is our hero, and we will continue to fight through him. We hope one day a cure is found for a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Until that day comes, we will continue to do whatever we can to help people with a Glioblastoma brain tumor.