Brain Tumor Doesn’t Stop Patient from Living A Full Life

August 26, 2020

In 2018, Suzy Pope was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer known as glioblastoma. Typically forming in the brain or spinal cord, glioblastomas tend to have a fairly grim prognosis.

But two and a half years after her diagnosis, Pope continues to thrive and make the most of every day. Her exceptional response to the immunotherapy she receives has given Pope the opportunity to continue living her life in the way she wants to.

“I am going to fight and do the best I can,” she says. “I intend to keep moving ahead and doing what I like to do and am called to do.”

Suzy Pope and her grandchildren.

A rough road to diagnosis

Back in 2018, before her diagnosis, Pope was living and working her dream job as a prosecutor in southern Maine. She first noticed something was wrong when he started to experience dramatic weight loss and excruciating headaches.

“I’ve had migraines all my life, and I knew this was somehow different,” she explains.

In February of 2018, after visiting her elderly parents in Massachusetts, Pope was driving home when she somehow ended up driving on the runways of the Portland International Jetport. She wound up in a ditch, where employees at the jetport found her in her car having a seizure. Pope was rushed to the hospital and given an MRI, which showed a growth in her brain — later determined to be a glioblastoma.

Her family transferred her from Maine Medical Center to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and in the weeks shortly thereafter, she had her first of four brain surgeries.

Since her diagnosis, Pope has had four brain surgeries and radiation, and has been on several clinical trials. Now, she receives infusions of the immunotherapy Keytruda every three weeks and has blown past her original prognosis.

“She’s doing very well and tolerating treatment with very few symptoms,” says Jennifer Stefanik, NP, Pope’s nurse practitioner at the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC). “We hope that that continues for some time.”

Making every moment count

Pope received a piece of advice from one of her radiation nurses that she has taken to heart: “Don’t let cancer make your world small; keep your world large. It is too easy to let a diagnosis consume you.” That simple piece of advice and the strength she takes from her deep belief in her faith, has allowed Pope to keep her world large as she walks her path forward.

During her time staying at the Hope Lodge in Boston while receiving radiation, Pope and her husband hit nearly every tourist destination in Boston. They saw the USS Constitution, took a swan boat ride, viewed the art gallery within the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and more. She even went on a cruise to the Amazon with her parents and had a phenomenal time.

Pope has refused to allow her diagnosis to put constraints on her life even while understanding the severity of it.

“You want to turn the clock back to the time before you got that diagnosis, but you can’t,” says Pope. “I realized that none of us are promised any time on earth, so I stopped worrying about tomorrow. I let tomorrow take care of itself and live today, as best I can. And in the midst of my own cancer journey God has been so good to me that I am privileged to pray nightly for others. What a blessing in the midst of difficult times and walking the cancer path to have so much in life you can pray for others.”

Stefanik admires Pope’s strength and ability to remain upbeat and optimistic.

“She is a joy to be around,” Stefanik says. “I see her once every three weeks for treatment and she is just positive and pleasant. She’s one of those people that always has a smile on her face.”

Pope is especially grateful to her care team at Dana-Farber for always standing behind her and giving her the ability to see her grandkids grow up.

“I cannot express my gratitude for my doctors and my caregivers who take so much time away from their own lives and their own families,” she says.

Pope continues to keep her world large with Dana-Farber. She receives treatment, reads, writes, gardens, spends time with her children and grandchildren, goes to church, and is planning a cruise in 2021 to Norway. She attributes her ability to make these plans and continue her journey to Dana-Farber and her faith.

“Like I say,” adds Pope, “Dana-Farber is where medicine meets the miraculous.”