silhouette of sad man sitting at table, hands placed on head

Young father started having ‘migraines.’ It turned out to be glioblastoma

Those of us who are young, fit, and healthy don’t tend to think too much about getting cancer. After all, we’ve been taught that if we live a healthy lifestyle our chances of developing the disease are quite low. Unfortunately, no matter how healthy you are, those chances are not zero. This 39-year-old extremely healthy father of three had the shock of his life when his sudden headaches turned out to be glioblastoma, a type of aggressive brain cancer. Now, he is in the battle of his life.

Young, Healthy Dad Diagnosed With Glioblastoma

Before his cancer diagnosis, Ryan Russell described himself as a super healthy, athletic, and energetic father of three young children. His life, until that point, had been quite successful. At 39 years old, he had a beautiful wife and family and a successful career. Things couldn’t be going any better – until the headaches began.

The headaches started in April. They nearly always came on just as he was leaving the gym, after dropping his son off at school. Calling them headaches is an understatement, really. Severe migraines is a much more fitting description.

Advertisement

“About 20 minutes after leaving the gym, I would just start to get an incredible amount of pressure in my head. It would lead to these headaches and it would cause some vision issues — tunnel vision, things like that, which was just really odd,” he described. (1)

Ryan Russell and his family
Image Credit: Ryan Russell | Today

As always, getting diagnosed took some time. He saw three different doctors before they figured it out. The first thought was maybe an inner ear problem or something related to COVID. The second wanted to take a holistic approach to stop the migraines. It was the third doctor who finally suggested that Russell have an MRI scan done.

Advertisement

Glioblastoma Diagnosis

Normally you have to wait a couple of days to have the results from an MRI scan. In Russell’s case, however, by the time they pulled him out of the MRI machine, there was a radiation oncologist already there waiting to speak with him. The oncologist revealed that there were three lesions on Russell’s brain. They immediately sent him to another hospital to figure out what they needed to do next.

Things moved very quickly. In Early May, Russell went in for a craniotomy. This is where they take out a piece of your skull to access the brain. The doctors removed one of the tumors they knew would have little impact on his brain’s functioning – things like speech, emotion, and motor skills. Finally, they had a diagnosis: Glioblastoma – a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

Advertisement

What Is Glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of cancer that can form in the brain or the spinal cord. It forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. It can occur at any age and often causes headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Glioblastoma is very difficult to treat because rather than forming tumors that are solid masses, they form tentacle-like ones that go into the brain. (2)

Advertisement

Typical treatments include surgery to remove tumors, radiation, and chemotherapy. These often don’t have a very large impact, however. There are more treatments being developed and various clinical trials happening around the world. Still, the prognosis currently is grim. The National Brain Tumor Society says that the five-year survival rate is less than seven percent.

Read: A man with stage-4 cancer was told he wouldn’t live to see his kids grow up. A rare surgery might give him a chance.

Trending Now

PETA calls for women to go on a sex strike against men who eat meat
PETA calls for women to go on a sex strike against men who eat meat
Retailer rolls out ‘coffee balls’ to replace capsules
Retailer rolls out ‘coffee balls’ to replace capsules
Bill Gates released swarm of mosquitos into audience while talking abo...
Bill Gates released swarm of mosquitos into audience while talking abo...
Mike Tyson Reveals He is Suffering from Sciatica
Mike Tyson Reveals He is Suffering from Sciatica
Woman’s own immune system has possibly cured her of HIV
Woman’s own immune system has possibly cured her of HIV
Glow-in-the-dark roads trialled to reduce road toll, protect wildlife
Glow-in-the-dark roads trialled to reduce road toll, protect wildlife
Daily 'breath training' can work as well as medicine to reduce high bl...
Daily 'breath training' can work as well as medicine to reduce high bl...
He's In A Night Club Bathroom Washing His Hands. Now Keep Your Eyes On...
He's In A Night Club Bathroom Washing His Hands. Now Keep Your Eyes On...
J&J tried to block lawsuits from 40,000 cancer patients. A court wants...
J&J tried to block lawsuits from 40,000 cancer patients. A court wants...
Which FORM of Magnesium Should YOU Take?
Which FORM of Magnesium Should YOU Take?
Vertical Greenhouse to Grow 2M Pounds of Produce
Vertical Greenhouse to Grow 2M Pounds of Produce
Guy Grows Peppers Using Radio-Controlled Equipment in His Greenhouse
Guy Grows Peppers Using Radio-Controlled Equipment in His Greenhouse
Advertisement

A Personalized Vaccine

Russell, his wife, and his family, however, refuse to give up despite the dark prognosis. Currently, in Germany, there is a personalized vaccine in a trial that targets glioblastoma. To get it, however, he will need to travel to Europe and pay out-of-pocket. It is not available in the United States because clinical trials for the shot have not been done yet in the country. 

Advertisement

A vaccine is a form of immunotherapy – a treatment that uses our own immune systems to fight disease. Dr. Douglas Colkitt, a retired radiation oncologist in Sarasota, Florida, who has been consulting in Russell’s case explained that tumors have what he called a “force field” on them that protects them from the body’s immune system. Glioblastomas happen to have one of the strongest force fields of all. The vaccine takes the form of glioblastoma cells plus certain cells in the bloodstream. This creates a personalized vaccine inside the patient’s body to help the immune system conquer the tumors’ force fields and destroy the tumors naturally.

Results from the German trials of the personalized vaccine have been incredibly promising. In these trials, 80% of patients made it to three years past diagnosis. Colkitt says it is providing a real hope for one of the world’s most difficult cancers. He reminds us, however, that the trial was small, with only 30 patients. American trials of similar vaccines haven’t seen the same encouraging results.

Advertisement

A Family With Hope

Still, Russell and his family are hopeful. They plan on traveling to Germany for Russell to have the vaccine in January. Until then, he will continue to live as normally as possible. He has been lucky to stay in pretty good health and continues to work as an associate professor at Penn State University and remain active with his children. He and his wife Samantha have started a blog about their journey battling glioblastoma where they talk about everything from treatments, their day-to-day, and how they are talking to their children about their father’s illness.

Keep Reading: A woman with terminal cancer says taking ‘magic’ mushrooms eased her depression and helped her process a miscarriage she had decades ago

Advertisement

Source

  1. Dad, 39, started having ‘migraines.’ It turned out to be brain cancer.” Today. A. Pawlowski. July 20, 2022.
  2. Glioma.” Mayo Clinic.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
Advertisement