It is probably rare to have one person as both the applicant and the subject of a realLIFE story. I have both the technical expertise of 8 years in the financial services business to complement a harrowing battle with a malignant brain tumor.
My Personal Road to Hell and Back
By Meredith C. Moore-Hansen
At 32, I have had a very blessed personal and professional life, due to luck and a bit of hard work, as well. A New York Life agent since 1998, I own Moore & Associates Wealth Management, a financial planning practice in a suburb of Atlanta, GA. I have consistently qualified for Million Dollar Round Table and many industry awards.
I am a wife, mother, a triathlete, AND a brain cancer survivor.
Lucky to Live One Year.
On June 1, 2005, just five weeks after the birth of my first child, Erik, I was diagnosed with glioblastoma. This is the most malignant and deadly type of brain tumor and was the size of a woman’s fist. Statistics tell me that 13.3% of people survive five years. Glioblastoma patients are always told that “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” the tumor comes back.
I quickly underwent a craniotomy — brain surgery — to remove the deadly tumor. The problem with brain surgery is that the doctors don’t know what’s in there, until they saw into your head and take a look. After discovering that removing the tumor could cause loss of mobility on my left side, the surgeons removed only 50% of the tumor. I was told I would be lucky to live one year. I kept telling the doctors that “They couldn’t be right. I just had my first child.”
Race to Recovery.
My husband and I were not going to give up easily. We hit the road to both Duke University and MD Anderson in Houston, upon receiving the worst possible pathology report. Both brain tumor clinics recommended that I “re-do” my craniotomy to finish removing the tumor. Philosophically, I liked Duke’s more hopeful philosophy on my prognosis and chose their team of doctors to coordinate all of my treatment strategies. At this point, I went on long-term disability claim to help cover my medical bills, household expenses and to keep my business afloat.
In July 2005, Duke University surgeons operated again to remove the remaining tumor. I was awake for most of the procedure. It was the most surreal experience of my life. As they poked around the right side of my brain, I saw my left hand fly up. The neurosurgeons at Duke maintain until this day, that I was “the most talkative patient they have ever had”. I remember telling the doctor — during the surgery — that he needed to consider long-term care insurance.” Duke was able to successfully remove the remainder of the brain tumor.
Next, Duke offered me a clinical trial which involved a four day stay in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit after drilling holes into my brain to administer a drug locally to the affected areas. Most brain surgeries remove the tumor, but not all the damaged cells. The new procedure was a way to kill off the remaining damaged cells and hopefully prevent the tumor from coming back. I was very lucky that my health insurance plan paid for the hospital stay and all expenses that Duke didn’t cover for the clinical trial. Frequently, we have no idea if health insurance will pay for an experimental treatment, if one is ever needed.
The surgeries and the experimental drug procedure were a success. The frustrating part of the process was the fact that I have an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, and I couldn’t even make a sandwich after the first craniotomy. It took me three weeks to regain all of my cognitive functions, but I continued to have completely clean MRI’s. My husband actually filed for claim on my New York Life long-term care policy. Thankfully, I ended up recovering sufficiently and didn’t have to use it.
As if 3 brain surgeries weren’t enough, my family and I had to move to Durham, NC to complete 33 radiation treatments at Duke’s facility. Having a new son, husband and dog living in a small corporate apartment in a HIGHLY stressful environment is not fun. It was tough trying to be new mom recovering from both a C-section and multiple brain surgeries in a matter of months.
After radiation, we moved back to our home in Atlanta, GA and I began one year of chemotherapy. I returned to work during this important recovery period, choosing to exercise my mind by continuing to serve my clients. I didn’t have to come back to work because of my disability insurance. But I love what I do. However, without the disability income, I would not have been able to keep my business afloat, along with contributing my portion to the household expenses. It was a life saver. My disability contract also allowed me to go back to work, but still paid me until my income reached the same level prior to going on claim.
Back in the Saddle Again
I also returned to competing. I ran two triathlons in the summer of 2006 and placed in the top 20% of all women in the race. In addition, I won my age group in the swim portion of both the triathlons. In the picture of me running, what you can’t see is the chunk of hair missing from the radiation on the right side of my head. I’ll never say another word about a bad comb over. Call it karma.
Good Things Happen
When asked how the ordeal has affected my outlook on life and work, I tell people that I’m a very different person than I was before. If I have a bad day, I don’t let it stress me out as much. But I’m more intense in other ways. I really push my clients to plan and put things in place now because I know personally that bad things can happen. In fact, in addition to running my financial planning practice, I frequently do motivational public speaking engagements on my story and the benefits of doing all of the proper planning.
On June 1, 2006, I officially outlived my original prognosis. In November 2006, I turned 32-years-old, and have consistently received clean MRIs since the last craniotomy in July 2005.
Here was my treatment regime and sequence:
To this day, since the 2nd surgery at Duke, I have had no remaining tumor in my head. I receive MRI’s every 8 weeks to monitor things. I do a triathlon or some sort of race every 1 month and train 4-6 days a week typically doing either running, biking, swimming or lifting weights. My story will be profiled in Newsweek Magazine in early September 2007.
- 4/14/05 – had first child – Erik – 9 lb, 6 oz
6/1/05 – after 2 weeks of massive headaches, diagnosed with “anomaly” in my head
6/8/05 – craniotomy #1 at Northside Hospital in Atlanta (roughly 50% resection and GBM pathology)
7/8/05 – Duke Brain Tumor Center completed “redo” craniotomy (#2) and got full resection of remaining tumor
7/10/05 - participated in clinical trial for IL-13 for “newly diagnosed” patients – had catheters placed in head and had IL-13 infused over a five day period to the area surrounding the cavity
8/1/05’ish – temporarily moved to Durham, NC and began radiation – 33 treatments done at Duke
10/05 – began chemotherapy which consisted of Duke’s rotational regime:
First 3 months – Temadar alone – had strong mgmt number to suggest that this would ideally be effective
- Second 3 months – ccnu
- Third 3 months – CPT-11/Avastin combo – puked my guts out (but hey, no diaherra) following each treatment
- Fourth 3 months – Temadar/Gleevac – Gleevac left the worst taste in my mouth. I incessantly began chewing gum, but haven’t had another stick of gum since.
6/06 – Did Acworth Women’s Triathlon in Atlanta, GA - won my age group on the swim portion; placed in the top 20% of all women
10/06 – Did Emerald Pointe Triathlon in Atlanta, GA – similar performance to Acworth
10/06 - completed chemotherapy and began 40 mg bid of Tamoxifen
11/06 – had first seizure in the meeting of a client meeting while discuss estate planning and asset allocation
11/06 – went on anti-seizure meds
Update 6/8/2008I continue to have immaculate scans and no visible tumor recurrence. I’ve maintained my workouts and a ranking in Triathlon in the Southeast US. I did recently go through a divorce, but what does not kill you makes you stronger. My business revenues have more than doubled over the last year and I always count my blessings. My son is now 3, is a blast and has many unsolicited opinions. Life as a mom is very rewarding and makes me appreciate my medical opportunity more than ever.
Things seem to be going great. You almost get worried when things are going so well, for fear that the other shoe may fall. I continue to get scans every four months. Duke says I need to go only every eight, but I like to fall on the conservative side. I remain completely clean and thankful for every scan.
Last year was the best production year for business in my 10 year career, following my divorce in 5/08. I feel more liberated than ever and am finally very happy. My son is doing great and takes karate and is a little fish in the pool, just like me. I continue to do triathlons each month from April to October. I did another Â½ marathon in March â€™09.
I am getting a good bit of press right now. Iron Girl, a fairly sizeable triathlon race production company is profiling my story. I did a TV interview in Atlanta this week. Our local newspaper is profiling my story, as well. NBC comes down next week to film me. They are televising the Atlanta Iron Girl triathlon on TV in August '09. I will be filmed racing, as well as having my background story told. I figure it's great press to get out brain tumor awareness.
I just clocked 5 years on 6/1/2010 and I’m fully alive and kicking. I’ve attached more media for your review. Things tend to go remarkably well. Of course, after losing my mom and getting divorced shortly after the medical drama, things seemed to significantly improve. My practice has more than doubled, I do quite a bit of motivational speaking and have won multiple business awards in the Atlanta area, as well as nationally in the financial planning community. I just did a 5K open water swim last weekend and have several triathlons scheduled this year. I have had no recurrences and things seem to be going great. I continue to be under no grand illusion of what GBM and what it does. I choose to maximize life, as best I can, while trying to have the biggest impact I can. My survival success is clearly on the backs of others that have not had the fortune of utilizing more recent technologies that continue to evolve over the past 10 years. My goal 5 years ago was to bring my son to kindergarten. Barring no unforeseen buses or crashing airplanes, I should have that privilege this fall.
I continue to be doing great. I still have no recurrences and am very active. My financial planning practice (www.moorewealthmgmt.com) has almost doubled and I continue to do keynote speeches all over the country on "Facing Your Fear and Finding Your Purpose". I have received several higher profile business awards within Atlanta, addressing my commitment to business, while still telling my story. I started hosting a radio show, focused around local family business (www.familybusinessradio.com) and the issues they face. Also, I currently am actively involved with the Board of Directors for Kate's Club (www.katesclub.org), focusing on empowering children and teens facing life after the death of a parent or sibling.
I still find time to be a mom to Erik and bring him to karate practices, swim lessons and volunteer at his school.
Things continue to be amazing. All my scans continue to be clear and no real noticeable issues other than a minor left peripheral vision issue. Just don't pass me on the left in the car. My business has had greater than 20% growth each of the last 3 years and I was the top producing financial advisor for Atlanta and North Georgia for all of New York Life. My son is growing up quickly and will be 7 this April. He has run four 5K races with me over the last 6 months. I'm starting to really get into my stride with my career, personal life and as a mom. I am also in the process of writing a book about what I've lived through, specifically for my son. That being said, having survived everything in 2005, there's still that metaphorical "Sword of Damocles" that I'm reminded of on each scan. However, I don't ever let that consume me. It's all about creating new records, accomplishments, relationships and connecting with people that I never did before. I hope to have a positive impact and affect just one person in a life changing sort of way. Any disease can be a curse or blessing. It's all in where you are in the process and how you choose to let it color the life you lead.
Things continue to be amazing. I still have had no recurrences and my practice had another record setting year with another 20% growth. My 7 year old son is doing great and I continue to have a blast as Erik's mom. I have several races scheduled this year and continue to keep my fingers crossed with my scans twice a year.
Things continue to progress nicely. Duke says everything remains clear. I've picked up some of my training again, in order to have more balance in my life. I've been juicing and reintroducing some supplements back in to my regime, given my long, intense work days for my business and early morning workouts. I was able to watch my son do 2 triathlons this year and get his black belt in taekwondo.
My business has grown for the 5th year in a row at over 20% and I feel very blessed for that. Every day I'm reminded on the importance of being my best – whether that's as a mom, financial planner, boss, partner, etc. given my health history. I never take one day for granted.
My advice to all people that are "knee deep" in the GBM preliminary process is know that you have to take a step back (in terms of treatments, etc.), in order to take a step forward.
Things seem to continue along status quo. I continue to have no recurrences or issues. I am planning more half marathons later this fall. My son, Erik, is now 8 and is doing great. We just got back from a week long adventure vacation in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Park....... cycling, trekking and kayaking. I continue to do two scans per year to be on the safe side. The photo is of the three of us on a 16 mile ride around Yellowstone. I'm in the back.
Things continue to well on my end. My practice continues to thrive and my workouts have taken a great turn in the gym. While part of my identity will always be tied to this diagnosis, I have begun to get far enough out to where it does not occupy my thoughts every waking moment. However, the impact of what I went through and will always go through is not lost on me. My family and I took a very cool multi-sport vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone last summer. It was great to have my 8 year old be able to hang with us for 20+ miles on his bike. I have never been happier in my personal life and have gotten more perspective on my GBM journey. I know the future will likely be faced with interesting twists, turns and hills, but I am using these "flats" to gear up for them.
Nothing has really changed here. I continue to have clear scans at Duke. I have spent the last 9 months doing a bodybuilding.com program and have lot a healthy amount of body fat, while gaining lean muscle mass. My son, Erik continues to do well and has entered the 4th grade. He and I have had very open and honest dialogue about GBM. I encourage him in his academic and athletic endeavors, as he does me in my business and fitness goals.
No update. Still doing great."
My life seems to continue to get better every year. I strive each year on how to improve myself and reach my next set of goals. My fitness level hasn't been this good since high school, my practice is reaching new heights and my relationships are still wonderful. I still consistently speak to groups on my experience as a brain tumor survivor, a mom, a wife, a CEO of a great firm, an athlete, and a mentor.
I still make sure that I give back to many non-profits and sit on several Boards of Directors. I always make the time to talk to families that call me on how to address their brain tumor diagnosis, as well.
While this journey is very tough, for me it saved my life and allowed me to take a step back, only to take 10 steps forward.
As always, I welcome questions via e-mail. Hope is everything.