■ Families come out to help raise money for brain-cancer research at last year’s Brain Cancer Walk. This year’s fund-raising goal was $200,000. photo/Thor Radford
■ Families come out to help raise money for brain-cancer research at last year’s Brain Cancer Walk. This year’s fund-raising goal was $200,000. photo/Thor Radford
Inside the Cherry Hill campus at Swedish Medical Center in the Central Area, medical experts are keeping hope alive. For more than 200,000 patients diagnosed annually with primary or metastatic brain tumors, hope cannot come fast enough.

It was a busy month at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. Aside from the rigors of treatment, surgery and research, the medical staff was in the midst of National Brain Tumor Awareness Month and looking ahead to the Brain Cancer Walk on Saturday, May 30.

In the very building that Dr. Bill Hutchinson made great strides in cancer research 30 years prior, a team of doctors and researchers were doing the same. Behind Dr. Greg Foltz, a neurosurgeon, the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment is determined to change the world's perception of brain cancer with each new development.

"Once you cure one [type of] cancer, then everywhere people have the belief that we can cure [all types]," said Foltz, who lives in Madison Park. "Cancer is a disease that we've shown can be managed. You can achieve long-term survival in most cases today."

MINIMAL ADVOCACY

Unfortunately, for 22,000 new patients each year, brain cancer is still viewed as a terminal disease in the medical world. With an uneviable task before him, Foltz is not backing down from the challenge.

"One of the reasons why we haven't made progress, I think, is that there are so few patients with the disease," Foltz said. "[Patients] die so quickly that there are not enough living to have them advocate for themselves. We don't have the sorts of resources that are focused on the disease."

South Seattle resident Mandy Bowell is one of Foltz's patients, diagnosed with glioblastoma in March 2008. It was another normal day for Bowell, 56, until she collapsed at home from a seizure. MRI scans later in the day revealed a tumor inside of her brain that was the size of a quarter.

"You can't tell the tumor is there because there is really no pain," said Bowell, who underwent surgery to remove the tumor two weeks after it was discovered. "Still, it's awful and devastating, because it's not an easy process."

Like most all cases of brain cancer, reoccurrence is almost inevitable. Just a few weeks ago, Bowell's cancer reappeared.

Life expectancy, on average, for brain cancer patients is one to two years. However, within the last few years, Foltz has seen that window increase. "We can keep patients well for longer periods of time," he said. "But ultimately we still lose the battle."

HELPING OTHERS

Though more common later in life, brain cancer and tumors strike at any age. Without a cure for malignant brain cancer, the Swedish medical team believes they're on the cusp of a breakthrough. Every advancement brings forth more hope.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved Avastin for glioblastoma patients, making it the first non-chemotherapy drug used to combat the fast-moving tumor.

In other cases, brain tumors remain relatively enigmatic. For 17-year-old Anthony Hopkins, his battle began at age 9 with reoccurring seizures. However, his fits were atypical and more controlled. This led numerous doctors to overlook the slow-growing tumor nesting within his brain.

"It got to the point where I was having these little fits up to five times a day," said the Bishop Blanchet High School junior. "I was having temporary amnesia and memory loss, and early-on, the doctors thought it was epilepsy."

Following an incident in the classroom, Hopkins was recommended to the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment, where doctors discovered he had ganglioglioma. A benign form in his case, Hopkins has already developed a second tumor, though slow-growing in nature.

Though Hopkins was told he'll live a long and normal life, he's vowed to use his strength for the benefit of others. He had assembled a team of walkers for the May 30 event and had already raised several hundred dollars for research.

"I'm so lucky because my case really isn't as serious as what others are going through," said Hopkins, who hopes to attend University of Washington or the Seattle Art Institute after he graduates. "If I'm still here, that means I still have a job to do. [Brain tumors] affect the lives of so many people."

Last year, more than 500 participated in Swedish's inaugural Brain Cancer Walk, raising $125,000 for research. This year, their goal was to raise $200,000 in their walk around Mercer Island High School.