Mark Harrington was about to begin enjoying a much-anticipated three-day weekend, but when he sat down to brunch with his girlfriend that Saturday, something was wrong.
He couldn’t get the words out of his mouth to order his food. Instead of spending that weekend relaxing with friends and family, Mark went to a local hospital.
It was there they discovered a golf ball-sized mass in his brain. One of the first calls he made was to his former father-in-law, a retired doctor at Keck Medicine of USC, who referred him to the team at the USC Brain Tumor Center.
A biopsy confirmed what his doctors feared: Mark had a stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer that is more often than not deadly.
One reason Mark chose to have his treatment at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center was that it offered Gamma Knife surgery, which uses radiation to operate on a precise target on the brain. In 2009, at the time of Harrington’s diagnosis, Gamma Knife was a leading edge treatment that was offered only at a few hospitals in the state.
“USC was one of the few places I could have it,” says Mark. “I thought that would give the best chance of preserving quality of life.”
Mark’s surgeons couldn’t remove the entire tumor, but in spite of the fact that late stage glioblastomas are usually deadly, they didn’t give up. They tested several combinations of chemotherapy in an effort to find a killer cocktail for Mark’s tumor. Unfortunately, Mark began to experience a common complication from treating brain tumors — toxicity from the chemotherapy. His team eventually put Mark on a drug that slows the growth of new blood vessels, and since then, his tumor has shown no signs of growth.
Seven years after his diagnosis, Mark has survived several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, and is no longer on any drugs. Mark’s bout with brain cancer left him with vision loss in one eye and he has some aphasia. On the other hand, he has gotten to travel and has written a book about his experience with brain cancer. Most importantly, he got to see one of his sons graduation from law school and he gets to spend time with his four grandchildren.
“I was blessed by so many things — that my ex-father-in-law referred me to USC and that I have had great doctors and staff who helped me through,” says Mark.
By Hope Hamashige