When Karen Botnick Paz had an MRI, she never imagined the scan would reveal a cancerous brain tumor. Following a brain biopsy, the pathology showed there was a good chance the tumor would respond favorably to chemotherapy, due to certain genetic markers. “Although the doctor said my tumor was well behaved and had a good personality, receiving the news of having a brain tumor on Dec. 31, 2015, was nowhere on my radar screen,” she said.
From that day forward, despite learning that her particular tumor had no cure and was too risky to remove, Paz dug deep into her own positive outlook on life. After completing a year of three types of chemotherapy, she was determined to find more resources in Atlanta, across the country and the world to explore how to live a productive and healthy life.
Paz admitted that it wasn’t about the cancer controlling her life; instead, she felt empowered. She discovered that she could create endorphins by laughing, loving and living with gratitude. Using exercise, meditation, ritual mikvah immersion and yoga, Paz learned how to gain mental, emotional and physical strength. Using her last name (pronounced ‘PahZ’) as inspiration, she developed the mantra “be PAZitive” to embrace each day with a positive attitude.
The PAZitive philosophy took off after she met Roy Cranman on JDate in early December 2015. Three weeks later, Cranman met her entire family for the first time at Northside Hospital. A week after that, Paz had brain biopsy surgery at Piedmont Hospital. “Roy lovingly stayed by my side and has supported me every step of my journey.”
Last month, on June 14, the couple exchanged wedding vows in Atlanta.
Emma Stein, a clinical health psychologist, works with those impacted by cancer and other medical challenges. A key tenet of her approach is that there is no one right way to face life’s challenges. Instead, it is about finding an authentic way to cope. She often recommends that her patients develop a coping “toolkit,” coming up with a variety of strategies they can use when they are feeling anxious or depressed. For example, a patient might use a combination of social support, relaxation strategies, exercise and enjoyable activities to cope during difficult times. She also works with patients on processing feelings such as sadness, anger and fear, and accepting that these are normal parts of the cancer experience. Stein runs a private practice in Buckhead and facilitates support groups for those impacted by cancer at Piedmont Hospital’s cancer wellness program.
Today, about 700,000 people in the United States are living with a primary brain tumor, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. About 80 percent of all cancers have the ability to spread to the brain. These include melanoma, lung, breast, renal and colorectal cancer. Despite the number of brain tumors and their devastating prognoses, there are only five FDA approved drugs – and one device – to treat brain tumors, the NBTS reports. For many tumor types, surgery and radiation remain the standard of care.
The goal of NBTS is to “defeat, connect and change,” according to its website. One way to connect is through its Patient Navigator program, which includes support programs such as educational materials and organized patient/family conferences.
“Having a brain tumor is overwhelming,” according to the American Brain Tumor Association. “Having the support of others is life-affirming.” The nonprofit’s website goes on to say that from diagnosis, surgery and treatment side effects, to recovery and for some — recurrence — many patients and caregivers feel anxious and isolated. Support groups can improve emotional well-being and quality of life by providing information, emotional support and resources.
Atlanta-based Sharecare, founded by digital health pioneer Jeff Arnold and TV personality Dr. Oz, offers a video on YouTube with cancer patients and survivors. It recreates the inspirational speech of former North Carolina Basketball Coach Jimmy Valvano with positive viewpoints, an example of how sharing stories can be part of a supportive network, www.youtube.com/watch?v=FycwD7p2-o4
Such networks and a positive attitude such as Paz promotes can pave the medical road map for patients struggling with cancer to lead a more hopeful life.
For more information about brain cancer, visit www.braintumor.org/ or www.abta.org/.