July 17 is Glioblastoma Awareness Day.
Glioblastoma is a rare, aggressive type of brain tumor. Once diagnosed, survival is typically measured in months, for many.
But Jerry Bennett, 50, is beating the odds – with electricity.
Bennett, who resides in Ottawa Lake, Michigan, was diagnosed with glioblastoma two years ago.
What first began as numbness and tingling on his left side, soon escalated to where he couldn’t coordinate the movement of his arms and legs.
“I couldn’t make right, left go, to work together, or my foot work with my hand,” Bennett said.
The father-of-three and crane operator, suddenly could no longer work safely. One day, while making an attempt to operate a crane, a co-worker of Bennett noticed that he seemed off.
“The other operator of the job said, you need to go to the hospital, you don’t look right, you’re not acting right,” said Bennett.
Bennett’s wife drove him two hours to Cleveland Clinic where he was diagnosed with glioblastoma.
“I said, ‘do what you got to do – do everything,’” Bennett said.
Treatment included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation – and a wearable therapy that uses electrical fields.
“Tumor treating fields are a technology that creates a low level electrical field and it disrupts cells that are trying to divide,” said David Peereboom, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic. “And since it is cancer cells that are actually the ones dividing, those get killed preferentially.”
Each morning, Bennett shaves his head and his wife attaches four patches of nine electrodes to his scalp. Wires run across his body to a battery pack he carries with him– keeping low intensity electricity flowing 24 hours a day.
“Patients who use the device, at the time of new diagnosis, live on average almost five months longer than those who do not,” said Dr. Peereboom. “That might not sound like much, but for a patient with glioblastoma, that’s a very substantial improvement. That’s five months that a patient can live their life; be with their loved ones.”
Dr. Peereboom said device side effects include skin irritation on the scalp and headache.
The technology is also being used for some types of cancer in the chest wall and there are clinical trials taking place for its use to treat pancreatic cancer.
For Bennett, it’s been two years since his diagnosis, and he has big plans for the future.
“To walk my daughter down the aisle, hopefully, that’s what I want to do,” he said.