Experimental Treatment Gives Patient with Brain Tumor Hope

Barbara Arenz and her grandaughter, Calli

Barbara Arenz and her granddaughter, Calli

After a long day of work last March, Virginia native Barbara Arenz decided to relax by watching one of her favorite shows—Grey’s Anatomy. It showed a patient undergoing a unique treatment, where a special drug was given to make the cancerous parts of the brain glow during surgery.

“I’d never heard of anything like it before,” said 57-year-old Barbara. “I thought it was weird but really incredible too.”

One week later, Barbara would undergo a similar treatment when it was discovered she had a four-inch tumor growing in her brain.

“What are the chances?” she said.

It started simply enough. First, it was vision problems that she just attributed to getting older. And then there was the ongoing headache she thought was just part of her chronic sinus infections. However, when she started to run into walls, her doctor told her to go straight to the emergency room—and fast.

Barbara was eventually transported to Memorial Medical Center, where she met with Jeffrey Cozzens, MD, chair of SIU School of Medicine’s Division of Neurosurgery. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and most aggressive form of brain cancer.

“At first, I looked at my brother-in-law and said there is no hope,” Barbara said. “But Dr. Cozzens gave me a sense that we can make the best out of this situation.”

Dr. Cozzens recommended she be part of an ongoing clinical trial where patients take a liquid drug called 5-Aminolevulinic Acid. The drug then makes the cancerous cells of the brain appear red under fluorescent light during surgery.

“It’s often challenging to completely remove a malignant brain tumor, because it’s difficult to distinguish the tumor from normal brain tissue,” Dr. Cozzens said. “Being able to make this distinction and resect the tumor more completely may improve survival rates. Currently, we are one of only about five centers in the country that are investigating the utility of this drug and technique. ”

For Barbara, the surgery was a success.

“I feel amazing now,” she said, “and I owe that to the entire medical team.  Everyone I came into contact with was just incredible.”

As part of her ongoing treatment, Barbara undergoes radiation, takes a chemotherapy pill and will need regular MRI scans to monitor any new growth. For now, she’s on temporary leave from her job as a billing clerk and most of her time is spent with daughter, Pamela Cadwell, and granddaughter, Calli.

“She’s the best,” Calli said. “I really, really love her.”