Sept. 5 — Christmas 2013 was like no other for Julie Papini Session of Morrilton.
Having experienced symptoms including forgetfulness, nausea and severe headaches for several weeks, Session took the advice of a friend and saw her doctor Dec. 23. She received a call the following day — Christmas Eve — that “a little something” had been detected behind her right eye and that she should return for a second appointment in two days.
“My doctor was also my next door neighbor. He was trying to protect us so we could enjoy the holiday,” she said.
The “little something” turned out to be a 7.5 cm tumor. After a successful surgery on Dec. 27, it was confirmed to be glioblastoma multiforme grade 4 (GBM), an aggressive brain cancer that can quickly spread to other parts of the brain.
“It was a surreal experience. I was supposed to be enjoying Christmas with my family and suddenly I was having brain surgery,” said Session, the mother of four children ages 6 to 16.
Jump ahead to 2017, and Session is now on a mission to raise awareness and funds in the fight against brain cancer. The first-ever Go Gray in May 5K, organized entirely by Session and her family, was held May 20 in Morrilton and drew more than 200 participants. The race was presented by Going Gray for Julie, a nonprofit organization formed by the family.
On Aug. 1, a donation of $15,000 in proceeds from that event was presented to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute for brain cancer research.
Accepting the donation were radiation oncologists Fen Xia, M.D., Ph.D., and Jose Penagaricano, M.D., both professors in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine. Xia also is chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology.
“I can’t say enough about the dedication that Julie and her family have shown in rallying their community to raise funds for brain cancer research. Their spirit is sure to inspire many more people to get involved and help us improve our ability to prevent, diagnose and treat brain tumors in the future,” Xia said.
Session is thankful for the support of her community in sponsoring and participating in the first-ever Go Gray in May 5K, which is named in reference to the gray brain cancer ribbon. The second annual race is planned for May 19, 2018.
“There is no cure for GBM, but it is treatable. Until there is a cure, I will always be fighting GBM and supporting research,” Session said.
For information on the 5K, visit the Going Gray for Julie Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 23, 2017 | When Hot Springs musician Raymond Lovelace starting having migraine headaches in 2012, he set out to find the cause.
“It raised a red flag,” he said, adding that he hadn’t experienced migraines for several years.
After visiting his doctor in Hot Springs, he decided to seek a second opinion at UAMS. Tests revealed the cause of his migraines to be a malignant tumor in his brain. Neurosurgeon J.D. Day, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, along with radiation oncologist Jose Penagaricano, M.D., led Lovelace through an aggressive and highly precise procedure known as Gamma Knife to treat the brain tumor. Penagaricano is a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Contrary to its name, Gamma Knife does not include any blood loss or incision. It is a noninvasive procedure offered by the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center that delivers 192 precisely focused beams of gamma radiation to small targets inside the brain. Treatments typically last 15 minutes to one hour.
“They placed a helmet on my head and slid me inside the machine. It was quick and painless. Since then, I’ve had Gamma Knife performed another three times due to the spot continuing to pop back up,” Lovelace said. UAMS is the only facility in Arkansas to offer the Gamma Knife procedure.
Unfortunately, the treatment of his brain tumor was only the beginning for Lovelace, an accomplished singer and musician who plays saxophone, guitar, harmonica and banjo. A CT scan conducted at UAMS also revealed a tumor in his lung.
“Even though my symptoms were caused by the tumor in my brain, the cancer actually started in my lungs and spread from there,” he said.
Medical oncologist Konstantinos Arnatoutakis, M.D., took over Lovelace’s treatment as he began a chemotherapy regime at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. After experiencing significant weight loss, Lovelace’s outlook improved when he was prescribed an immunotherapy drug named Opdivo. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that either boosts a person’s immune system to fight cancer or marks cancer cells so it easier for the immune system to find and destroy them.
“I started on Opdivo in 2015 and continue to have treatments every two weeks. As long as it’s working, that will probably continue for the rest of my life,” he said.
As Arkansas’ only academic cancer center, the UAMS Cancer Institute offers therapies and treatment options unavailable elsewhere in Arkansas. This includes an average of about 80 clinical trials open to enrollment based on a patient’s specific needs and qualifications. Clinical trials not only provide patients with access to the most current treatments available, they also help determine new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer in the future.
In addition to his Gamma Knife procedure and chemotherapy, Lovelace also underwent a series of radiation treatments at the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center with radiation oncologist Penagaricano.
“When I started radiation therapy, they explained everything that would happen and how many treatments I would have. The entire staff was great and really eager to take care of me,” he said.
Although it’s been a long road, Lovelace is thankful for the life-extending care that has allowed him to get back to his life and music.
“If I hadn’t come to UAMS, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I was able to get all of these treatments in the same location with doctors who could talk to each other and share information about my condition. I would recommend UAMS to anyone,” he said.