Battling Brain Cancer, Living Life

Feature Story
Kaiser Permanente physician Scott Peak, MD, member Julie Wright, and pharmacist Amy O. Le, PharmD
Scott Peak, MD (left), Julie Wright and Amy O. Le, PharmD.

Julie Wright is an environmental consultant, a wife and a mother. She likes to hike, and rides around her town of Campbell, California on an electric bike.

But she’s also two years out from a diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, a malignant brain tumor that required surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Physically recovered except for limited peripheral vision, she rides the bike because she feels it’s unsafe to drive.

Wright’s GBM is known as the deadliest brain cancer, with fewer than half of patients surviving 15 months after diagnosis. Wright has several things in her favor. At 39, she is young. She’s physically fit. And she got fast, excellent care at Kaiser Permanente.

ER to surgery in four days

In spring 2015, Wright began to experience crushing migraines, which increased in both frequency and severity over time. She remembered that her mother had had migraines, but Wright was also bumping into things.

That October a headache was so severe one Sunday night that Wright woke up her husband, Chad, to get her to the Emergency Department at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center.

“They gave me pain medication and took me in for an MRI,” Wright remembered. “That was when I was first told that there was some sort of growth on my brain.”

From there, help arrived very quickly for Julie Wright.

By Tuesday, she met with Adhikari Reddy, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center, which along with the medical center in Sacramento is a Northern California referral center for patients diagnosed with brain cancer.

Dedicated teams can both move nimbly on patient cases while also drawing in expertise from other specialists throughout Northern California medical centers during regular case reviews. Kaiser Permanente’s large system and many patients means that physicians are experienced in fighting GBM tumors, while its integrated network means comprehensive care.

Dr. Reddy recommended removing the tumor as soon as possible, so Wright’s surgery took place the next day. With more than 95 percent of the tumor removed, the surgery was deemed very successful. The pathology report with the diagnosis of GBM arrived the following day.

“It was a blur after the surgery,” said Wright. “I was really grateful for my support system and family.”

On Oct. 16, 2015, Wright met neuro-oncologist Scott Peak, MD — who still oversees her care today — to discuss her ongoing treatment plan. Her surgical swelling went down, and Wright moved off the painkillers and on to physical therapy, since brain tumors can affect cognitive functions.

On Oct. 27, healed and ready, Wright began the recommended aggressive treatment.

Close contact

Wright underwent concurrent radiation therapy and chemotherapy at the Santa Clara Medical Center for six weeks, under the care of Benjamin Fisch, MD, a radiation oncologist, followed by 12 monthly cycles of oral chemotherapy managed by Amy O. Le, PharmD.

Dr. Le oversees the Redwood City Medical Center’s specialized Neuro-Oncology Pharmacy Service, while her counterpart, George David, PharmD, is at the Sacramento Medical Center. Together, they personally oversee all Kaiser Permanente Northern California cases needing oral chemotherapy.

Dr. Le serves up to 130 patients, educating them on the treatment, charting their oral chemotherapy dispensed locally for their convenience, and providing personalized care daily.

“It’s my honor to be involved in my patients and their families’ lives during this difficult time. They have my phone number, and I can address any questions or concerns, which alleviates their anxieties.”

Wright said she felt “mild fatigue” in completing her medications and being cleared to resume her everyday life. Now she has an MRI every two months to ensure there is no change to her health.

“All of my physicians were so responsive, answering any questions,” Wright said of her cancer care team. “It was so helpful to have that access going into the unknown — as well as offers of support, including a social worker and therapist.”

Dr. Peak described Wright as having “an upbeat, positive attitude, which is really important. She deserves a lot of credit for her health.”

Today Wright is back to working 30 hours a week, and takes joy in her 3-year-old son.

“Having a young child has been helpful in my recovery. He lives in the moment rather than in yesterday or tomorrow — and now so do I.”