Six years after completing radiation and chemotherapy for stage two astrocytoma—a type of brain tumor—Kaitlin Jacobsen began experiencing the telltale signs of a swollen brain—headache, nausea and hallucinations.
She started feeling ill as she and her husband Nate were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. It wasn’t what they’d expected. Regularly scheduled MRIs hadn’t indicated any recurrence, so they thought her the tumor was in the past.
She went to the emergency room the following day and needed emergency surgery. A short time later, she underwent surgery to remove a large stage four glioblastoma from her brain. During this eight-hour surgery, University of Wisconsin neurosurgeon Mustafa Baskaya was able to remove all of the tumor visible in an MRI enhanced by the use of a contrasting agent; however, even when performed by one of the world’s top surgeons, surgery rarely eradicates glioblastoma.
The surgery was followed by five-and-a-half weeks of radiation therapy to destroy residual cancer cells, but this too rarely cures glioblastoma. Jacobsen also began taking Avastin, a drug that slows tumors down by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that feed the tumor.
She currently takes Avastin every two months and plans to take it indefinitely. “My cancer is incurable, but the Avastin has been doing what it’s supposed to do. I’m still in remission,” she says. “And I met another woman with the same diagnosis as me who has been on Avastin for six years without recurrence. This gives me hope.”
Jacobsen says she’s had the best care at the University of Wisconsin. “I love my doctors. They have been fantastic,” she says. “They have given me great care and always tell me everything I need to know.”
At this point, remission is the best outcome Jacobsen and patients with this diagnosis can expect, which is made possible by advances in treatment driven by the research at major institutions such as the University of Wisconsin. Public support is essential to making this research possible, which is why the UW Department of Human Oncology has created The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research of the University of Wisconsin.
Jacobsen will not be able to participate in The Ride—she has vision problems associated with her disease and suffers from fatigue—but she encourages others to ride, donate and volunteer to help fund research that could lead to better treatment for her and others with cancer.
“There’s no cure for glioblastoma yet,” Jacobsen says. “But I keep hoping.”