When Suzanne Stone completed her first half-marathon in February, the achievement was extra sweet: she’d managed to finish the long-distance race two years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Suzanne had been on her usual morning run the week before Thanksgiving 2014 when she started to notice the symptoms: “I felt really, really funny and my words were all garbled,” Suzanne says. A colleague drove her to the ER, where an MRI revealed a brain tumor.
“I worried about whether the tumor would be malignant or not,” Suzanne says. “But I was mostly concerned about Thanksgiving dinner because I was having 50 people over.”
She hosted a full house for Thanksgiving before going in for surgery at a local hospital on Dec. 2, 2014. After the tumor was removed, Suzanne learned it was glioblastoma, an aggressive, malignant grade IV brain tumor. She began radiation therapy and chemotherapy, near her home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Brain tumor treatment at MD Anderson
In March 2015, Suzanne talked to her oncologist about a referral to MD Anderson. “We knew MD Anderson had a very good reputation for dealing with glioblastoma, and we wanted all the help we could get,” Suzanne says.
Her doctor referred her to neuro-oncologist Marta Penas-Prado, M.D., at MD Anderson’sBrain and Spine Center. Soon, Suzanne started experiencing weakness on the right side of her body, and a scan confirmed the tumor had progressed.
Because it was located near the speech areas of her brain, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., recommended an awake craniotomy. In this type of brain surgery, the patient is woken up during the operation to help ensure their ability to speak or move is preserved as the tumor is removed.
Suzanne’s first half-marathon
Suzanne returned to Fort Worth two days after surgery and finished her year of chemotherapy in spring 2016. She eased back into running and set her half-marathon goal.
“Even when I don’t feel like exercising, running makes me feel better,” Suzanne says. “Even though I’ve mostly done 5Ks, I felt like I could do a half-marathon.”
Her doctors didn’t object to her plan, so in February 2017, more than two years after her brain tumor diagnosis, Suzanne participated in her first 13.1-mile race.
“I started out just fine. Speed is not my objective,” Suzanne says. “But somewhere around the eighth mile, I started having trouble. At first I thought it was just the wind and the hill, but I couldn’t straighten myself up. I knew I was slowing down, but I really wanted to finish the race.”
She kept going, pausing at the medical station at mile 11 for salt tablets.
“I walked after that,” Suzanne says. “I was just trying to hold myself up straight and not lean to the right. I almost gave up, but then I saw a volunteer in a medical jacket walking toward me.”
Medical volunteers walked the final mile of the race with Suzanne, and she crossed the finish line at just over five hours.
“I found it embarrassing that I had be helped, but I wanted to finish,” says Suzanne, who recovered after a day of sore muscles. “After a while, I realized that it was good. Even if I had to have help, I was going to finish.”
Don’t ever give up
She faces her glioblastoma diagnosis with the same determination and is already planning her next 5K. With a year of stable scans since finishing treatment, Suzanne returns to MD Anderson every three months for follow up. She checks in with her Fort Worth oncologist after each trip to Houston.
“Don’t let the diagnosis scare you beyond the initial shock,” Suzanne says. “Be stubborn. Deal with the cancer, and find doctors you can trust. Don’t be afraid to ask for support, and don’t give up. That’s become my mantra: Don’t ever give up.”