When John Franco developed a splitting headache three years ago, he never imagined this would be the start of a year-long odyssey. At his wife Elizabeth's urging, he went to see his doctor, William E. Straw, M.D., who sent him to PAMF's Palo Alto Center for a CT scan.
"I am so grateful that Dr. Straw recommended a CT scan, even though everything seemed fine with me neurologically," says Franco. "If it wasn't for his diligence and instinct to take this step, I may not be alive today."
The CT scan revealed the frightening reason why Franco had been having headaches.
"I met with neurosurgeon Paul Jackson, M.D., after hours," says Franco. "He told me that I had a tumor the size of a tennis ball in the right frontal lobe of my brain. I was overwhelmed with fear….fear of dying, fear of the unknown, and fear of the uncertain future for my wife and kids living without their husband and dad."
The very next day Franco had surgery to remove what, at that time, seemed like a benign tumor. However, when the tumor grew back, a biopsy showed it was a glioblastoma, the most common – and most malignant – brain tumor.
Additional surgery followed, and Dr. Jackson was able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. At that point, Franco was referred to a clinical trial of a new treatment regimen: three types of chemotherapy for a year, preceded by six weeks of daily radiation, under the care of PAMF radiation oncology specialist Gordon Ray, M.D. After a year, he had the option of continuing chemotherapy, or trying alternative therapies.
Franco chose complimentary alternative therapies recommended by PAMF social worker Colleen Travers. Since May 2010, John has kept up a thorough and varied regimen: healing touch massage therapy, nutrition counseling, meditation and herbal medicine.
"We wanted to see if my body could resist a tumor'comeback,'" said Franco. "Colleen Travers has offered incredible support, guidance and wisdom in every aspect of this journey."
Two years after finishing treatment, the tumor hasn't returned. Franco still has cancer and regular checkups. So far, the checkups have been very positive.
"This type of cancer never goes into remission and never goes away," says Franco. "The doctors say the best scenario is that you come in for a checkup every few months for the rest of your life to make sure tumor hasn't come back."
During his treatment, John got laid off from his job as a land acquisition development manager at a local real estate development company and went on disability. Currently, he's enjoying being "Mr. Mom," taking care of his two daughters, Madison, 8, and Samantha, 7. He is also enjoying what he describes as the acute sensitivity he brings to his life. One of the positive parts of a difficult journey came from having to ask friends and family for help, which John says opened his heart and his life, rekindling relationships that had been dormant for years.
"I don't take anything for granted and find happiness in the little things in life that present themselves on a daily basis," says Franco. "I love my wife and kids as if today is the last day I will be with them. I can't change the past or control the future, so I enjoy the now, the present moment, savoring every moment of now that I am able to enjoy."
John's positive attitude and strength have been inspirational for all the PAMF staff members who have treated him, according to Dr. Gordon Ray.
"It has been a pleasure and an honor to treat John," said Dr. Ray. "His ability to complete a rigorous course of treatment, including both aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, is a model for all of us on how to deal with adversity in life. I look forward to continuing to care for him and observing his continued progress for many years to come."