WILKES-BARRE -- Getting a diagnosis of brain cancer is life changing. One man from Luzerne County knows that firsthand. It's what happened to him last fall.
He wanted to talk about a treatment he says is helping him live a normal life.
Sometimes, viewers send us pictures showing us something of note they've done. Bill Welliver sent us photos last month from a Relay for Life event at the King's College fields outside Wilkes-Barre. He agreed to tell us the story behind the photos, beginning with a moment he remembers last November.
"I was reaching for an item with my left hand, and I didn't feel good through the day, and I went to grasp something, and I'm looking at the item and I can't grab it," Welliver recalled.
Bill passed out after that. Eventually, at the hospital, a scan showed a tumor on his brain, a glioblastoma, stage 4 -- a very aggressive brain cancer.
"When I started my residency in neurosurgery, if someone survived more than nine months with a glioblastoma, we'd question the quality of the pathological diagnosis. Now in our clinic, we are following people diagnosed with the same disease six, seven years ago," said Dr. Michel Lacroix, director of neurosurgery for Geisinger Health System.
He attributes that longer life expectancy to advances in the field the past few years, most notably the cap-like device called Optune, made by the company Novocure.
Optune uses targeted electric current to keep the tumor from growing. It can't be eradicated, but Dr. Lacroix says the tumor's rate of division can be slowed.
"If you stop the division, you stop the growth of the tumor."
Bill wears the device 22 to 23 hours every day and will continue to wear it for the rest of his life. He says he barely feels it anymore and notices only a bit of fatigue from time to time. The battery pack around his neck weighs eight or nine pounds.
Dr. Lacroix says he, along with Dr. Scott Turner and Dr. Robert Rostock, decided on Optune for Bill along with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
The results so far indicate the tumor is shrinking.
"It doesn't change our lives. He goes on and does the same things he did before," said Bill's wife Janice.
Janice says they understand the severity of his diagnosis but he still fishes, does the yard work and the grocery shopping, and hangs out with their family, three daughters and seven grandkids.
"There's not much more we can ask for. And we thank God every day," Janice said.
"It has given me motivation to keep going. A lot of people ask how I do it. It's motivation," Bill added.
Dr. Lacroix says about 50 of his patients use Optune as part of a multi-pronged approach to treat brain cancer, and that Geisinger was an early adopter of the technology almost 10 years ago.