Years ago, Mary and David Krausman met in German class in high school. Now, a few decades later, the couple travelled to Germany, not as a romantic homage to their school days, but for David to receive an alternative form of cancer therapy not approved in the United States.
Krausman has a quickly growing brain tumor at the base of his brain stem that reaches into his thalamus, the area of the brain that is thought to relay and process sensory information.
"The prognosis is 12 to 14 months," Krausman said. "And that generally means chemo and radiation for 14 months. But the immunization stuff, they talk in years. The stuff here in Germany is what's going to make the big difference."
Krausman has lived in Chandler for 20 years as part of his 30 years working for Intel. He retired from Intel at the beginning of this year.
This world-wide journey began earlier this past summer. It started as a few small symptoms noticeable only to his wife: slower reaction time, slightly slurred speech. Before running a marathon in San Francisco with his daughter, Krausman agreed to get an all-clear from the doctor.
They ran blood tests, scheduled MRIs and in the end, the tumor was discovered. Eventually, Krausman was referred to the Barrow Neurological Institute of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
At Barrow, Krausman was given the traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Because of the placement of the tumor, it is inoperable. Even the attempt to remove the tumor could leave Krausman permanently paralyzed. Instead, it was important to slow the growth of the tumor and hopefully shrink it.
However, Krausman and his wife felt the treatment offered at Barrows, while exemplary and the world standard, would still not give him the long life he insists on having.
"I want to make it to my 75th wedding anniversary," Krausman said with a smile. "I've still got about 30 years to go."
So rather than take only traditional treatment, through a network of friends, the Krausmans were able to learn of a clinic in Cologne, Germany that specializes in a new form of cancer treatment. Known as IOZK, the immunological and oncological center in Cologne (or Immunologisches und Onkologisches Zentrum Koln), the clinic works to create a personalized treatment that uses the patient's own cells to attack his or her cancer cells.
Working on the premise that the immune system is responsible for attacking mutated cells, the therapy retrains specific white blood cells to attack the cancer cells. Because these cells are the patient's own cell, IOZK says the therapy is safe.
The therapy might sound familiar. That's because it is part of the research that won Bruce A. Beutler, Jules A. Hoffmann and Ralph M. Steinman the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This sort of therapy is also the rumored treatment of the late Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs.
The chemotherapy regimen that Krausman is on gave him five days of chemo and then nearly a month off. So in the middle of Krausman's treatment at Barrow, he and Mary flew to Germany for what they call a supplemental treatment.
"A lot of doctors aren't supportive of this (new) type of medicine because they're not familiar with it," Krausman said. "Some will stop treatment if you don't do exactly what they want to do. My doctors said, ‘Why not? Go ahead.' They don't mind me going; they just don't want it to interfere with treatment here."
The treatment has been approved in Germany, but the Krausmans said the approval process in the United States by the Federal Drug Administration is much longer.
With his doctors' blessing and a lot of hope, Krausman travelled to Germany. While there, he spent a few hours of most days in therapy. The specialized immunization that uses his own cells to target his tumor was easily and painlessly reintroduced through an IV. In addition to the immunization, his therapy also included the use of a targeted heat radiation, called loco-regional deep tissue hyperthermia.
"It didn't hurt at all," Krausman said. "Half the time, I fell asleep during the treatment."
Even though most days were spent at the doctor, David and Mary tried to get out of the hospital and hotel. They saw a number of castles and took drives along the Rhine River.
"He never complained," Mary said. "He hasn't ever complained."
And while David joked that it was only because no one would ever listen to him complain, Mary insists that David's humor throughout the last few months has been the most reassuring part of the tribulations.
At the end of October, the Krausmans flew back to Phoenix and once again began the traditional medical treatment at Barrows.
This time, there was some good news. The MRI showed that the tumor, while it hadn't shrunk yet, also had not grown.
However, some blood count numbers aren't where the doctors want them to be, so the Krausmans will leave for Germany on Thanksgiving Day.
The five days of radiation and chemotherapy followed by a month off at Barrows will continue for about a year, Mary Krausman said. And it is during the 23 day "off" period, that they will return to Germany to do another round of experimental treatment.
The Krausmans admit that they have been blessed with the good fortune to be able to afford both the treatment, which isn't covered by insurance, and the extensive travel expenses.
"It's not cheap - it is expensive - but so far it's okay," Krausman said. "When you're faced with life and death, you get an I'll-face-anything attitude."
And Krausman says he still has a lot of living yet to do. With two more grandchildren on the way and a daughter's wedding planned for next summer, Krausman is ready to, in his own words, "Fix it. I'm going to fix it."
"My dream is that they all get together and argue about who got it to work," Krausman said of his team of doctors. "But I don't care. I just hope it works."
To hear the story in David's own words and to follow his story, visit his video blog at www.tumorofthebrain.com.
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