Mark Davis, of Menomonee Falls, knew the week ahead would be stressful.
It was a Sunday evening, and he was thinking over all the issues he had to tackle Monday morning in his role as chief operating officer at an electric utility. Hoping to rest up for a tough week, Mark got in bed early and promptly clicked off the light.
“When I woke up, I was in an ICU at Froedtert Hospital surrounded by family,” he said. “I couldn’t speak because of a breathing tube, but I gave my wife a look like, ‘What happened?’ She leaned down and said, ‘You had a seizure.’” Mark suffered six seizures that night. The cause was a fast-growing brain tumor known as a grade III malignant astrocytoma.
Navigating the Brain
Patients in the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Brain and Spine Tumor Program receive care from a full team of brain cancer experts — neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, radiation oncologists and many others.
This team meets weekly to discuss patients and develop fully coordinated care plans. Mark’s first link to the team
was Wade Mueller, MD, neurosurgeon and MCW faculty member.
“Our main goal is to remove as much cancer tissue as possible without compromising a patient’s critical brain functions,” Dr. Mueller said. “When we meet a person who has a newly diagnosed brain tumor, one of the first things we check is the ‘geography’ of the tumor — where it’s located in terms of the functional areas of the brain.
We do that using MRI that is so sensitive and high resolution that it can detect tumor growth before a patient experiences symptoms. In fact, every phase of what we do, from diagnosis through treatment and follow-up, is image guided. We then use a variety of tools during surgery, including sophisticated MRI and ‘awake’ testing, to remove as much tumor as possible, while protecting abilities like language and movement.”
Within two weeks of his first seizure, Mark was in the operating room. During an hours-long procedure, Dr. Mueller and his team removed all detectable cancer.
Following surgery, Mark started chemotherapy with Jennifer Connelly, MD, neuro-oncologist and MCW faculty member. At the same time, he had six weeks of radiation therapy with Joseph Bovi, MD, radiation oncologist and MCW faculty member.
As with surgery, the goal was to target tumor tissue while leaving healthy tissues intact.
“We treated Mark using volumetric modulated arc radiation therapy,” Dr. Bovi said. “With this technology, we target areas involved with microscopic deposits of cancer, while sparing regions of the brain involved with speech, thinking and moving.”
The Brain and Spine Tumor Program team follows patients closely through every phase of their treatment and follow-up. One key tool is regular neurocognitive testing. Alissa Butts, PhD, neuropsychologist and MCW faculty member, evaluates patients before treatment and throughout recovery. This helps ensure they maintain functional abilities and experience as much well-being as possible.
Additionally, the team researches new ways to control brain tumors.
“For many patients with incurable brain cancer, clinical trials offer treatment possibilities,” Dr. Connelly said. “We are always looking forward, researching better ways to diagnose, treat and monitor brain tumors. For instance, our biophysicists are pioneers in developing new imaging techniques like MR perfusion — a way of using MRI to pinpoint brain areas where new blood vessels and increased blood flow indicate tumor growth. These discoveries are making a real difference for our patients.”
‘Go Out and Live Life’
Today, at age 59, Mark is feeling good and working hard. He continues to enjoy life with his wife, Rochell, his sweetheart since age 13, and their children and grandchildren.
“Mark doesn’t let his disease slow him down,” Dr. Connelly said. “This is what I want to see patients do. Let us worry about the cancer. You go out and live life. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Learn more about the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin's Brain and Spine Tumor program.