Bryan Reilly has a full-time job and a passion for exercise. He skis, climbs mountains, works out regularly, and runs a mile in under 8 minutes.
Any 56-year-old could be proud of being so fit. But for Reilly, it’s a special triumph: Less than two years ago he was diagnosed with an often-lethal and aggressive brain tumor.
In May 2010, Reilly collapsed during a 7-mile run in Tewksbury, where he lives with his wife and family.
“I woke up in the back of an ambulance,” he recalls. “I had a seizure and blacked out, and someone found me by the side of the road and was kind enough to call for the ambulance and stay with me until it arrived.”
In that moment, his life took a stunning turn. An MRI scan found grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, the most dangerous type of brain tumor. He underwent surgery at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, followed by radiation, a year of chemotherapy to keep the tumor in check, and medication to prevent future seizures.
Nevertheless, “during this whole experience I’ve been running and lifting weights,” he says. “Now I run about 20 miles a week. Last October I ran a half-marathon. And I’ve been skiing and climbing as much as possible.”
Reilly even climbed Mount Washington and skied out through the steep Tuckerman Ravine in March 2011 — after surgery and radiation and while on chemotherapy.
Sandra Ruland, RN, a member of his care team at Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology, marvels at his resilience.
“Bryan is off-treatment and doing very, very well. Like many of our patients, you would never know all he has been through if you met him.”
Both Ruland and Reilly’s physician, Dr. David Reardon, clinical director of the Center for Neuro-Oncology, encouraged Reilly to stay active but took precautions to guard his health.
“I encouraged Bryan to listen to his body: not all rest and not all exercise,” says Ruland. “We monitored his lab work to make sure he was not at risk for bleeding or infections. He did have to modify his weight-lifting early in his treatment, but he was able to do everything else.”
“These simple guidelines can make a big difference in a patient’s overall health and how well they tolerate a rigorous treatment schedule – and it can also strengthen their immune system,” he says.
“If a patient’s immune system is stronger, they are less likely to get infections. While there is no guarantee that adopting this lifestyle will help, I suspect this is one of the reasons Bryan did so well during his treatment and why he is continuing to have a good outcome.”
Reilly worked at home for a time after beginning treatment, but now is back in the office full-time.
“I would tell someone who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor: Everybody’s cancer is different, everyone’s body reacts differently.”
His physical fitness aside, Bryan says his recovery “would not have been possible with the support of the doctors and nurses at Dana-Farber, my wife, my family, my friends, and my faith.
“My advice to someone newly diagnosed would be to lean on them.”