Neighbors and friends who were diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma just two years apart, Denise and Maureen have found hope and purpose in fighting brain cancer together.
Roughly 12,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastomas – an aggressive, stage IV brain cancer – each year in the United States. When Maureen M. learned she was one of them, she was surprised to learn a neighbor on her block, Denise K., was given the exact same diagnosis just two years earlier. They both say their unique friendship has given hope and purpose to their journeys.
“We believe it’s more than a coincidence that we came into each other’s lives and are walking down such similar paths,” says Denise, who was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2019. “We believe there is a bigger purpose to help and inspire others.”
Denise’s experience started when she began getting abnormally tired and was generally not feeling great. Being a very active person, she thought she might have just been overdoing it. Then, she began having issues with her left arm not cooperating. Her husband, Rob, took her to the emergency department to get checked out.
“When we were told I had a brain tumor and would need surgery, it was a total out-of-body experience. Rob literally fell to the ground, and we were overwhelmed with grief thinking about our teenage daughter,” Denise recalls. “Dr. Yaron Moshel, who removed my tumor, was extraordinarily kind and caring. He and his team at the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center compassionately helped us through what was thankfully a very successful surgery and treatment plan.”
Denise went through chemotherapy and radiation under the constant monitoring of neuro-oncologist Nicholas Metrus, MD and radiation oncologist Joana S. Emmolo, MD. With her disease well-controlled – and contagious positivity – she is continually pushing herself forward, getting back to the gym, her standup paddleboard and her skis after a hiatus to focus on her health.
“Brain cancer is not who I am. It’s something that happened to me and something I have been determined to overcome,” Denise says. “Defying the odds is just as important for me and my family as it is for showing Maureen and others what’s really possible when you’re living with brain cancer.”
When Maureen learned she had a brain tumor in August 2021, a mutual friend in the neighborhood shared that Denise had recently gone through a similar experience. Denise called Maureen at the hospital, and they bonded instantly.
“The first thing Denise told me is that being at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center, I have the best medical team anyone could ask for. She’s living proof of that,” says Maureen.
“Denise’s confidence and the care from the Glasser team gave me the mental strength I needed heading into surgery and treatment. I can’t describe how valuable their support has been every step of the way.”
Maureen’s surgery was also a success. Dr. Moshel removed 100 percent of her tumor, just as he did with Denise. After evaluating all of her options for post-surgical treatment, including getting second opinions, Maureen is receiving chemotherapy and radiation, also like Denise. Most importantly, her drive to make the most of every day has never been stronger.
“I don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ I say, ‘I can,’” notes Maureen. “Before my surgery, they weren’t sure if I would ever walk independently again. Less than three weeks after surgery, I walked into my follow-up appointment in heels! I’m now doing 15,000 steps a day, am back to work and doing college visits and tours with my husband, Eddie, and our daughters. This is what life is all about.”
Denise K., brain tumor patient
Going on two years since her surgery, Denise says she is grateful for her experience with brain cancer. She notes the support goes both ways as Maureen helps her along her ongoing journey as well.
“We both feel we’re responsible for each other,” Denise adds. “The statistics aren’t great for people with glioblastomas – but we will not be statistics. Thanks to the Glasser Brain Tumor Center, we are showing our daughters, our families and others who are fighting what it means to be survivors.”
The Glasser Brain Tumor Center is helping to lead the way in discovering the next generation of treatments for patients with glioblastomas and other types of brain tumors.