Brain cancer is an exceptionally tricky disease to treat, presenting several significant challenges. And with approximately 24,000 people diagnosed with it each year, there is a pressing need for funding that can increase research that will lead to effective treatments. This is one mission of Brain Cancer Awareness Month, held in May.
For Michael Yutkin – who is currently fighting a recurrence of brain cancer after surviving glioblastoma multi-form grade IV in 2012, and his wife, Corie – this mission is personal.
“Brain cancer has a very grim diagnosis, and with a disease like this, the medical world and scientists need to fast track research and treatments. Obviously, there are so many cancers out there worthy of funding, but this is the one we need to fight for, because it is affecting our family,” Michael says.
Brain cancer also presents a set of unique challenges that can make both effective treatment and good quality of life difficult to attain. The brain/blood barrier limits the ability to successfully administer chemotherapy to the brain. Additionally, the brain is not easy to biopsy because it is not readily accessible, which can compromise test results.
And because the brain controls so many different areas of the body, brain cancer often has a serious impact on daily life; tumors can affect everythingfrom motor skills to emotions. Those diagnosed with it also often have a hard time being around crowds and in other environments where there is a lot around them to process, as brain fatigue can cause overstimulation.
While these realities canseem overwhelming, Michael and Corie have taken a positive, proactive approach. They are involved with the National Brain Tumor Society, and they sit on the planning committee for the Orange County Brain Tumor Walk. Next week, for the third year, they will participate in Head to the Hill, for two days dedicated to lobbying Congress on the issues the brain cancer community faces.
They have also been connected to Imerman Angels since Michael’s initial diagnosis in 2012, learning of the organization through a friend who knew founder Jonny Imerman. The couple got to know Jonny first and found the idea of one-on-one cancer support comforting. They were each matched up with a Mentor Angel – a cancer survivor for Michael and a caregiver for Corie.
“We are very private people, so talking to someone who gets it, versus having to explain it, really helps,” Corie says.
The couple have given back by becoming Mentor Angels themselves for a number of fighters and caregivers.
“There are not many survivors of my cancer that live a long time and do well, so whenever Imerman Angels asks us to mentor, we are happy to do it,” Michael says.
The experience has been rewarding for the Yutkins in more ways than one. They were gratified when some of their mentees reached out to offer support in the wake of Michael’s recurrence, and they have found the process of mentoring beneficial as Michael goes up against cancer a second time.
“My inclination is to nurture others, so providing support and helping others makes me better able to deal with Michael’s diagnosis,” Corie says.
A scan discovered Michael’s recurrence of brain cancer in November 2015, and he is currently undergoing treatment, consisting of radiation and chemotherapy. The couple retains the fighting spirit that saw them through the first bout of the disease.
“We try to live our life with a glass-half-full attitude. Our kids were five weeks old and 17 months old when Michael was diagnosed and they do not know he is sick. We do not live our lives in fear or denial of cancer. Instead, we focus our energies on the important, positive stuff like family. We believe someone has to beat the statistics, and that Michael is one of the people who will,” Corie says.