Empowerment through Positivity: The Journey of Two People with Brain Cancer

(BPT) - Pat Ponticelli is a 61-year-old retired registered dietitian living in Massachusetts and George “GJ” Gerner is a 30-year-old man living in New York and working in accounting. While their circumstances are very different, they both are facing glioblastoma (GBM), a rare and aggressive type of brain cancer.

Both had fairly dramatic experiences leading up to their diagnosis. GJ was out to brunch with friends when he had a seizure and they rushed him to the ER where they discovered a tumor that was subsequently determined to be GBM. After vomiting and having dangerously low blood pressure, Pat was brought to Boston where MRIs revealed she had a bleeding tumor in her brain, which was quickly followed by surgery. Afterwards she learned of the GBM diagnosis.

“Even though I was scared of the unknown, I didn’t want to look glioblastoma up,” Pat explains. “I didn’t want to hear the negatives. I just wanted to focus on how I was going to fight this.”

Both GJ and Pat decided to use Optune, an FDA-approved treatment, as one of their tools in their fight against GBM. Optune is a portable device worn by patients that interferes with cancer cell division. A large clinical study showed that adding Optune to the chemotherapy temozolomide provided the greatest opportunity to live longer and maintain quality of life compared to chemotherapy alone.

GJ’s brother, Colin, serves as his primary caregiver and found being an active part of assisting with Optune was encouraging.   

“It’s empowering to be able to do something by helping apply the arrays (adhesive patches) and feeling like I’m helping in the fight and we’re in this together,” said Colin. “I look at it as his sidekick in the bare-knuckled fight against cancer.”

GJ finds that having his brother serve as his caregiver “makes it easier, knowing I’m in such good hands.”

Like GJ, Pat also has a non-traditional caregiver in the form of her best friend Kathy. After meeting in the 8th grade, the two of them have become more like sisters. Since Pat’s diagnosis, Kathy has been there every step of the way with Pat calling Kathy her “favorite cheerleader.” For Kathy, that positive mentality is key.

“We don’t dwell on the bad or our fears. We just focus on staying positive every day,” said Kathy. “That’s the most important thing, and when I can stay positive in front of her, it makes it easier for her to stay positive, too.”

Colin and GJ are also focused on how they can make a difference for others creating a non-profit, called StacheStrong, to help others going through a similar situation as their own. In addition to their non-profit, GJ continues to work full time as well as participate in activities he loves like golfing, running and traveling including trips to Ireland, Utah and Arizona. Colin continues to be in awe of his brother’s positive outlook. 

“GJ is the kind of guy who receives a grim diagnosis and decides he's going to fight it aggressively with a smile each and every day,” said Colin. “I’m happy to call the strongest human I’ve ever met in my life my big brother, my best friend and my hero.”

What is Optune® approved to treat?

Optune is a wearable, portable, FDA-approved device indicated to treat a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in adult patients 22 years of age or older.

Newly diagnosed GBM

If you have newly diagnosed GBM, Optune is used together with a chemotherapy called temozolomide (TMZ) if:

  • Your cancer is confirmed by your healthcare professional AND
  • You have had surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible

Recurrent GBM

If your tumor has come back, Optune can be used alone as an alternative to standard medical therapy if:

  • You have tried surgery and radiation and they did not work or are no longer working AND
  • You have tried chemotherapy and your GBM has been confirmed by your healthcare professional

Who should not use Optune?

Optune is not for everyone. Talk to your doctor if you have:

  • An implanted medical device (programmable shunt), skull defect (missing bone with no replacement), or bullet fragment. Optune has not been tested in people with implanted electronic devices, which may cause the devices not to work properly, and Optune has not been tested in people with skull defects or bullet fragments, which may cause Optune not to work properly
  • A known sensitivity to conductive hydrogels (the gel on the arrays placed on the scalp like the ones used on EKGs). When Optune comes into contact with the skin, it may cause more redness and itching or may rarely cause a life-threatening allergic reaction

Do not use Optune if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant. It is not known if Optune is safe or effective during pregnancy.

What should I know before using Optune?

Optune should only be used after receiving training from qualified personnel, such as your doctor, a nurse, or other medical staff who have completed a training course given by Novocure™, the maker of Optune.

  • Do not use any parts that did not come with the Optune Treatment Kit sent to you by Novocure or given to you by your doctor
  • Do not get the device or transducer arrays wet
  • If you have an underlying serious skin condition on the scalp, discuss with your doctor whether this may prevent or temporarily interfere with Optune treatment

What are the possible side effects of Optune?

Most common side effects of Optune when used together with chemotherapy (temozolomide, or TMZ) were low blood platelet count, nausea, constipation, vomiting, tiredness, scalp irritation from the device, headache, seizure, and depression.

The most common side effects when using Optune alone were scalp irritation (redness and itchiness) and headache. Other side effects were malaise, muscle twitching, fall and skin ulcers.

Talk to your doctor if you have any of these side effects or questions.

Please click here to see the Optune Instructions for Use (IFU) for complete information regarding the device's indications, contraindications, warnings, and precautions.