Thursday, April 12, 2012


At 25, Bill Becker began a furniture company BDI (Becker Designed Inc) and serves currently as the CEO. Twenty-seven years later, he lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two children. Bill enjoys scuba diving and has had a passion for biking since he was a kid. Our conversation turned to Europe at one point, and he told me about the many countries he visited on a bike trip in 1982. Starting with England, he rode his bike through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France. A small child riding his bike around the neighborhood feels a giddy sense of glee. The champion cyclist feels the power of his body working together with the rhythm of the bike. They both feel free. Being diagnosed with a brain tumor is the opposite of those feelings. Your body rebels against itself. The childlike innocence is gone and replaced with worry, fear, and doubt. The rhythms you count on are disrupted in one terrible instant.
For a couple of years, Bill had low testosterone levels and experienced occasional blurred vision. He visited two general practitioners and one endocrinologist, he received injections to raise his testosterone levels, but no one could give him a diagnosis. He became disenchanted with the doctors who couldn’t answer his questions or tell him what was going wrong in his body. For an active person, there is no greater frustration than a body out of whack. In 2008, Bill met a doctor while relaxing at a spa in Massachusetts. As Bill was telling the doctor about his symptoms, the doctor suggested that Bill had a pituitary tumor. Bill recalls thinking to himself that somehow this diagnosis made complete sense. While the prospect of a brain tumor was dreadful and terrifying, Bill grasped onto the small glimmer of hope than he may soon have an answer to his medical problems. As soon as he came back to DC, he had an MRI and was told that indeed he had a very large pituitary adenoma tumor and needed brain surgery. He was shocked by both the news and the way he learned of it. After all, he says with a laugh, “You don’t expect to find a diagnosis by sitting down with a doctor at a spa.”
After the MRI, he went online to research pituitary tumors and educate himself. What he found gave him hope. He found that it was a fairly common tumor and that it had better outcomes compared to other types of brain tumors. “I wish it was the case for every brain tumor, but I know it is not like that.” As a member of an entrepreneur organization, he was familiar with the “Healthnetwork” foundation. The purpose of this foundation is to provide business leaders with the world’s leading hospitals and specialists. He called the foundation and was referred to Hopkins and eventually to Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa. That was the first time he had heard about Dr. Q, and immediately began searching for information about him. After reading about Dr. Q online and watching his segment on the Peabody Award winning Hopkins show (ABC 2008), Bill felt lucky to have found Dr. Q.
Bill found out that he would need surgery in 2008, and again felt the rhythms of his life disrupted. Bill values knowledge and learning, but there was no way to predict the outcome of a brain surgery. The what-ifs of brain surgery hit hard. His research on Dr. Q, and the doctor’s warmth, knowledge, and compassion at Bill’s pre-operative appointment filled him with confidence in Dr. Q’s surgical skills and enabled him to keep a positive attitude. He felt grateful that he did not need to have as much apprehension as other brain tumor patients. Right after the surgery, Bill had a severe sodium imbalance, which could be deadly. He had to return to the ER and was admitted to the hospital but after incredible work by the endocrine, the neurocritical, and the neurosurgery team lead by Dr. Q, he recovered. After that first surgery, Bill had a huge improvement in his peripheral vision, as well as a significant decrease in ocular migraines. More than three years later, Bill’s world changed again when the tumor reappeared on a follow up MRI. He was now facing a second major surgery. His prior experience with sodium imbalance only fueled his apprehension for another surgery. His first surgery was successful, but Bill worried about the odds of another surgery going as well. However, after an appointment with Dr. Quiñones, Bill once again felt a strong confidence in Dr. Quiñones’ skills. Bill’s positive attitude and faith in his surgeon helped him make it through his second surgery without any issues.

Bill is relieved to have the second surgery behind him now and is relying on Dr. Q and his team to monitor the tumor and develop a proactive strategy to keep the tumor from returning. He is feeling great and is so thankful to be able to live life to its fullest at less than 5 weeks since the surgery. When asked what it felt like to be diagnosed with a brain tumor, he says that he is “very thankful that his tumor was operable and non-cancerous and that he found such a skilled and caring surgeon.” Bill is currently doing very well, and has already booked his next scuba diving trip.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Amy Frondoso

“We have a pretty small family; cancer took everyone,” says Amy Frondoso with a nervous laugh. Her family has a long history of cancer- her mother had pancreatic cancer, her grandfather had lung cancer, and her aunt had lymphoma, and a few years ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Amy was also recently diagnosed with and underwent surgery for a brain tumor, but this is not her defining quality. Amy is a mother of two daughters, a swimmer, yoga practitioner, and avid reader. She is a Baltimore native, raised by her grandparents with two siblings.
In early 2011, she had a sudden “pop” of pain in her head followed by a terrible headache. The pain worsened and she eventually blacked out at a grocery store. On her way back home, she brushed it off as a migraine, but the pain would not go away. Amy eventually went to the hospital, and had a lumbar puncture, a CAT scan and an MRI. It was found that she had a brain hemorrhage which had caused the pain and her collapse. At the same time, the MRI showed that she had a pituitary tumor that was unrelated to the hemorrhage. When she was told that she had a tumor, she was very worried that it was cancerous. However, she tried to remain realistic and positive. While she was upset, saddened, and frightened, she was not shocked by the news of the tumor because of her family history. “When I was first diagnosed with cancer, there was no initial shock, because I knew that cancer ran in my family,” she remembers. Amy tried to approach her new diagnosis with the same positive philosophy by which she lives her life. She recalls that her family members rarely had a positive attitude and that they deteriorated very rapidly from their disease; she believes that “if they had a more positive attitude, they would have done better.”
When she fought thyroid cancer, Amy was able to remain very strong because she never had visible symptoms, and did not deteriorate or suffer much pain. But with the pituitary tumor and the hemorrhage, her daughters could see for the first time a vulnerable side to her, and this frightened them. They rallied around her with love and support, and Amy says that the support she found in her family meant the whole world to her. She fondly recalls that “My daughters became my mothers.” At Hopkins, she was referred to Dr. Quinones, whom she had already learned a great deal about. She recalled watching an inspiring PBS show about Doctor Quinones and telling herself that she would love to meet him. Little did she know that she was about to become his patient.
In February 2011, Dr. Q was able to resect her tumor and Amy was relieved to learn that it was non-cancerous. When asked if she had any regrets, or ever considered seeking another opinion, she said: “No, Hopkins and Dr. Q have been so wonderful. He is that light that you see at the end of the tunnel, but also that light that was with you throughout the tunnel.” Her advice to all brain tumor and cancer patients in general is to always keep a positive attitude, “Put some laughter in your life, be around your family and friends, and just make the situation light.”
Amy is also a great advocate of the Reiki Healing program. She describes it as a healing energy that you acquire through a form of meditation. As a cancer patient, she used to go to Reiki circles to re-energize her body. She says, “It removes pain, help you relax and stay positive.” She is now training to become a certified Reiki practitioner. Amy and her daughters have recently committed to run the Baltimore half-marathon with Dr. Q to support brain cancer research. Amy and her family are powerful reminders of what can be accomplished with love of life, support of family, and a positive attitude towards our hurdles.