In 2010, Jeff Hurdle started experiencing headaches every few weeks. He’d never had frequent headaches before, so he ignored them. He had no idea that they were brain stem tumor symptoms and that soon he’d be undergoing brain surgery to install a shunt.
One day while competing in a 5K run, Jeff began to feel dizzy as he crossed the finish line. He knew it wasn’t a post-race adrenaline rush. Something was wrong.
He scheduled a doctor’s appointment, where his doctor did a CT scan of his brain. The scan showed a brain stem tumor and hydrocephalus (built up fluid).
Undergoing brain surgery to install a shunt
Jeff’s doctor said he need to undergo brain surgery immediately. The surgeons would insert a silicone tube called a shunt, also called a ventricular access catheter, in his brain. Like a catheter, the shunt would drain the extra fluid in his brain.
For more than a year, Jeff was monitored without brain tumor treatment. But after a while, he began to experience problems with his vision, speech, balance, swallowing and hearing. Eventually, he couldn’t even walk without falling.
“We didn’t know what to do, but my dad insisted we travel to Houston to MD Anderson,” he says.
Jeff didn’t want to travel for brain stem tumor treatment and leave his wife and two small children -- Kate, who was 3 years old at the time, and Logan, then just 4 months old.
“I wouldn’t have gone if my dad hadn’t basically forced me on to the plane,” Jeff says. “Now, I’m so glad he did.”
Coming to MD Anderson for brain stem tumor treatment
At MD Anderson, Jeff underwent six weeks of radiation and a year of chemotherapy pills. Right away, the tumor began to shrink. At each appointment, he received good news. His doctors never expected that his tumor would go away completely, but it had stopped growing and Jeff’s symptoms had disappeared.
From the moment he arrived at MD Anderson, Jeff knew he was in a special place.
“Everyone was so helpful, knowledgeable and kind. I had a team of doctors taking care of me, and knowing that gave me a real sense of peace,” he says. “I knew that I had come to the right place.”
A year after finishing treatment, Jefferson began to feel the headaches again. He worried that the tumor was growing again and prayed that it would go away.
He returned to MD Anderson for a check-up and MRI. At the end of the meeting, his doctor explained the reason for the headaches: his shunt was over-draining, because the tumor was gone -- a result he had never anticipated. Jeff was cancer-free.
Savoring life after a brain stem tumor
Now, Jeff is enjoying more time with his family. Kate is now 6 years old, Logan is 3 and, the newest addition to the family, Josie, is 5 months old. Jeff is back to running, lifting weights and enjoying the outdoors. (He has some big plans for several camping trips in the near future.) And he even started learning guitar.
His advice to other patients?
“Take it one day at a time,” he says. “And never give up.”