Story by: Alex Welch on July 12, 2021
John and Jessica Bostock were in the middle of exciting life changes as the summer of 2015 started warming up. John was just 35, and the couple had an 18-month-old daughter, Olive. Plans were underway to fix up a farmhouse.
John had been experiencing nearly constant headaches for months when they got so bad Jessica took him to the emergency department at Norton Hospital in downtown Louisville. On July 4, 2015, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma.
The incredibly aggressive brain cancer is typically fatal. On average, most patients survive 12 to 18 months. About 25% of patients survive more than a year, and 5% survive more than five years.
Six years after his diagnosis, John and Jessica look back with tears and joy.
Three days after his diagnosis, Norton Neuroscience Institute neurosurgeons cut into John’s skull and during the five-hour craniotomy, removed as much of the tumor as they could. Six weeks after surgery, he started radiation therapy and two years of oral chemotherapy.
Renato V. LaRocca, M.D., neuro-oncologist with the Norton Healthcare Brain Tumor Center is the first doctor with whom John remembers interacting for his treatment. Dr. LaRocca has remained his primary brain cancer physician.
After they met and Dr. LaRocca laid out his treatment plan, he recommended they seek second opinions. The couple did and decided to trust their confidence in the comprehensive care of the team at the Brain Tumor Center, a collaboration of Norton Neuroscience Institute and Norton Cancer Institute.
John and his family spent countless hours at Norton Cancer Institute in downtown Louisville over the course of his treatment journey. From the valet parking service to the activities to help little Olive pass the time, it was clear to the couple that the team at the Brain Tumor Center had become like family.
Juggling appointments with their busy lives and arranging child care for their daughter were difficult. On several occasions, the multidisciplinary care approach not only brought more viewpoints from various specialists to collaborate on John’s case, it also made the day in and day out of getting cancer treatment easier.
Appointments were streamlined with several providers available to see John on the same visit. Questions could be answered faster.
During an appointment with one physician, a question about John’s incision came up. Five minutes later, his surgeon was in the exam room inspecting how the healing was coming along.
The team made the Bostock family feel at home, and the community of support through tough times and victories made the countless appointments a little better. The hospital was less overwhelming and intimidating with all of the smiling faces.
According to John, Dr. LaRocca’s enthusiasm and honesty were instrumental in his cancer journey. Dr. LaRocca was invested in helping him continue to live his life, and the doctor’s expertise in a new therapy was about to make a difference.
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Dr. LaRocca had been Norton Healthcare’s principal investigator in clinical trials of a novel device that can slow if not stop the progress of glioblastoma. The device is a cap that fits over the skull and needs to be worn nearly continuously on a shaved head as it delivers tumor treating fields (TTF). These alternating electrical fields can interrupt the division of cancer cells in the brain.
The device, marketed under the name Optune, had just gotten broader Food & Drug Administration approval for treatment of glioblastoma months after John’s diagnosis. When John was ready for this lifesaving treatment, he was in the care of one of Optune’s most experienced physicians.
John had been wearing the device nearly around the clock for years, and the treatment was working as well as anyone could have expected. During the COVID-19 pandemic, John and Jessica founded a business together and enjoyed lots of family time. John is a stay-at-home dad who keeps busy with his family, their new home and the business.
His family had gathered to celebrate his five-year survival on the Fourth of July last year when a phone call from Dr. LaRocca replaced joy with concern. A recent scan had revealed a spot on John’s brain.
John and Jessica turned to their family and their health care providers for support. The experience was an intense reminder that challenges would continue as would the outpouring of concern and care.
More examinations and tests followed. A biopsy was performed to retrieve tissue from John’s brain for laboratory testing.
After two weeks of anxious waiting, John walked into his in-laws’ house after getting a call from Dr. LaRocca. Jessica was waiting.
“We need to get a good bottle of Italian wine,” he said.
Jessica was immediately overjoyed. It was time to celebrate; the tissue was benign. The inside joke had to be explained to the rest of the family. Doctor’s orders: Dr. LaRocca prescribes Italian wine — not French — for celebrations.
“I’ll just never forget that moment because the way he said it, and I knew that’s what Dr. LaRocca told him when he called,” Jessica said.
After all their challenges, the couple spreads a message of resilience. They shared a number of lessons their journey has taught them.
“My mom had cancer a number of years ago, and she told me one time, ‘You have to be OK with dying. You just have to,’” Jessica said. “I think after about a year we talked about that and he told me he was. You just have to say, ‘OK, this is it.’”
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