It's been just over a year since Brenda O’Brien brought her fiancé Pete Biondo to the emergency room at Mercy hospital in St. Louis. She thought he had a tooth infection. But it turned out to be something far more serious.
“They saw a tumor,” she said. “The next day they went in and did a biopsy of it, and they told us that it was anaplastic astrocytoma.”
A terminal form of brain cancer.
The tumor—which was the size of a grapefruit—was too large to be operated on. The doctors said Pete could expect to live another 7 to 10 months.
“I was devastated,” O’Brien said. “You just don’t expect that. So, it was shocking, and it took about, I guess, two days, to really let it sink in.”
Pete has outlived his prognosis by about 5 months. But the illness, the aggressive treatments involving radiation, chemotherapy and drugs to manage side effects, have taken a toll.
“There would be a delay in his thinking, he didn’t function for himself,” O’Brien said. “He had to have somebody live with him to make sure he ate something, make sure he did take showers… It’s been, you know, just a rollercoaster of a ride because at one point you think he’s dying and then the next couple months he seems to turn around, and the cycle starts all over again.”
Some 22,000 people in the United States will receive news like Pete’s this year. And roughly 15,000 will die from cancers of the brain and nervous system. That's nearly 3 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. For a patient with the most aggressive form of brain cancer, known as glioblastoma, the future is bleak.