Barrow Patient Defies Odds

Barrow Patient Defies Odds

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Patients diagnosed with glioblastoma survive an average of just 15 months.

When Sarah Stanford was diagnosed with the deadly brain cancer, there was little hope she would survive for longer than six months.

Fifteen years later, Sarah is thriving, thanks to a clinical trial, Barrow Neurological Institute and her faith in God.

In 2004, Sarah had a young son and had begun experiencing migraine headaches and eye trouble. An MRI revealed an aggressive brain tumor the size of her fist. Sarah came to Barrow, looking for hope.

Enter neurosurgeon Kris Smith, MD, and neurologist Lynn Ashby, MD. Dr. Smith told Sarah her tumor was in a challenging location but without surgery, she had three to six months to live. Then Dr. Smith and Dr. Ashby offered Sarah an option that would push the boundaries of conventional treatment.

“Dr. Smith told me there was a clinical trial,” says Sarah. “I was the final patient of the 30 needed for the trial. I just wanted to extend my life for a year.”   

Dr. Smith performed the eight-hour surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, then chemotherapy wafers were inserted into the area of her brain affected by the tumor. Next came gamma knife treatments and six weeks of radiation.

“I came to Barrow for follow up visits every three months for two years,” says Sarah. “Then every six months. And for the last three years, once a year.”

Now, it is 15 years later and Sarah is the only participant in the trial still living.  She was cautious about looking too far ahead for the first 10 years, but her perspective has shifted.

“I wanted to do as much as I could with my son for as long as possible,” says Sarah. “All I wanted was to see him turn 18 and graduate from high school.”

Joshua is now 18 and recently moved out on his own, signaling yet another new beginning for Sarah. She plans to buy her own home in the next few years. She needs help with some tasks and tries to stay active and get plenty of rest.

“I want to give people hope,” Sarah says. “I felt guilty for surviving when so many others didn’t, but now I can help patients stay positive and show them anything is possible. I give credit for my survival to my heavenly father and my son.”

She also acknowledges the roles Dr. Ashby and Dr. Smith played in providing her healing and hope: “I could not have done it without them.”

On Friday, October 11, Sarah and Dr. Smith will honor all patients, survivors and caregivers at the Barrow Brain Tumor Warrior Celebration. This gathering is open to all members of the brain tumor community to share their strength and celebrate their victories.

“I changed the way I celebrate birthdays,” says Sarah. “The date of my surgery was October 13. Now, every year, I celebrate the anniversary of the new beginning I was given at Barrow.”