Mark Gensler was sure he had the flu. Just home from a ski trip to Mammoth, he thought the cold temperatures and long, ski-filled days got the best of him. But it was a simple text to a friend that made him think something else may have been wrong: the letters on his phone seemed to jump around.
“My sister drove down from Oceanside and immediately took me to the hospital, fearing I had suffered a stroke,” says Gensler, a retired business manager who lives in Encinitas. “I went through a series of tests, including an MRI, and learned that I had a golf ball-sized tumor in my brain.”
Gensler was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the deadliest form of brain cancer, with median survival rates of around 14 months. John McCain, Beau Biden and Ted Kennedy all died from this type of cancer.
After surgery to remove part of the aggressive tumor, Gensler was offered a new type of treatment called tumor treating fields, which uses electrical fields to disrupt the growth of brain cancer cells. It can add several months of quality life for those with glioblastoma, according to recent studies. And it is the first significant advancement in brain cancer survival in more than a decade.
“This technology has given me tremendous peace,” Gensler says.
How tumor treating fields work
Patients who undergo tumor treating fields wear a medical device that looks like a swimmer’s cap. Insulated electrodes line the interior of the cap and emit low-intensity, alternating electrical fields in to the brain. Powered by a small battery, patients carry the device with them, either in a backpack or messenger bag. Patients, like 61-year-old Gensler, must keep their head shaved for the duration of the treatment and wear the device at least 18 hours a day.
“I know it’s not a cure, but it’s helping to prevent the spread and growth of this brain tumor,” says Gensler.
Helping improve quality of life for patients
Dr. Siavash Jabbari, medical director of radiation oncology at Sharp HealthCare’s Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute and Neuro-Oncology Center, says that unlike radiation and chemotherapy, side effects are minimal, so patients can continue to live a quality life while undergoing treatment. For Gensler, this means attending his 17-year-old son Matheus’ weekly water polo games at San Dieguito Academy.
“I’ve been using this device for three months now and I feel good,” says Gensler. “I’ve had no new growth and my only complaint is that I still have difficulty reading.”
Gensler is still undergoing chemotherapy roughly five days a month. He is also monitored by Dr. Jabbari and the entire neuro-oncology team for any changes in his health.
“Despite my diagnosis, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” adds Gensler. “I have the support of my sister, my son, friends, dads from YMCA Adventure Guides, water polo families, neighbors and caregivers. With their support and the tumor treating fields device, I’m not going down without a fight.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Charles Redfern or Dr. Siavash Jabbari for an upcoming story about tumor treating fields treatment for brain cancer, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.