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  • Neurologist faces the other side of brain cancer

    As a neurologist working in and around Boston, Mark Weiner, MD, has spent more than 25 years helping diagnose and treat disorders, disease, and injuries to the nervous system — including the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Now he's on the other side of the equation, taking a leave from his practice to deal with his own treatment for brain cancer. 

    A father of four, Weiner is facing the future with his wife, Hedy, his children, and a team of caregivers at the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center committed to keeping his mind sharp and his confidence high. And by participating in a clinical trial, he knows he's still doing his part to help patients. 

    Dr. Mark Weiner and his familyThe day before his brain surgery, Weiner (holding grandson Miles) and his wife, Hedy Wald, hosted a family cookout.  

    I had been experiencing pain in my left knee last spring, along with a limp. My wife Hedy and I are long-distance bicyclists, so I figured I must have hurt the knee riding. As a neurologist, however, I came to realize it was something else. I wasn't limping because I was hurt, I was hurt because I was limping.

    There was a rock in my gait, so small that most people wouldn't even notice it. I'm trained in my field to see these things — and that type of gait in which you swing your leg out and come down toe-first when stepping can be associated with either a stroke or cancer. I went over all my symptoms until I arrived at the conclusion it was probably cancer. Before my colleague who took my MRI-scan told me, I already knew.

    After my diagnosis, when we first came to Dana-Farber and met my oncologist, he looked familiar. A few weeks before my diagnosis, I had attended a neurology conference in New Orleans and was mesmerized by a lecture given by a Dana-Farber physician. It focused on how Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) is committed to pushing forward with research as much as possible, but at the same time is committed to doing as little harm to the brain as possible in surgery and clinical trials; in other words, the quality of life for patients is as important as the quantity of life. Could this be the same doctor? I checked the conference schedule, and sure enough, it was Patrick Wen, MD — director of the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center and the doctor whose lecture I had attended in New Orleans. I guess it was meant to be.

    Mark Weiner, MD, with Debra Conrad LaFranke, RN, OCNHis nurse Debra LaFrankie, RN, OCN, helped Weiner celebrate his fundraising ride.  

    Hedy and I were impressed with the teamwork going on at DF/BWCC, not only with Dr. Wen's group, but also with my surgeon Ian Dunn, MD, and radiologist Brian Alexander, MD, MPH. They were all in constant communication and took time to explain to us what was happening at each stage. We never felt like there were splintered groups or silos; everybody was working in collaboration. And each time we met with someone, they would turn to Hedy and say, "How are you doing?"

    As a special way of thanking my care team, Hedy and I, together with a team of friends and family, decided to bike in to Dana-Farber from our home in Sharon, Mass. — about a 25-mile trip — and make it a fundraiser to support the Brain Tumor Research Fund headed by Dr. Wen. We made the trip in August, during the window between my month of radiation and the beginning of my year of chemotherapy. As you can expect, it was a very satisfying ride. I felt great, and we raised more than $10,000.

    — Mark Weiner, MD 

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