Survivor Offers Words of Hope to Senator McCain

Dragon Master Foundation


This post is a guest post by Alexander Moore. Graphic created by Laurel Jackson.

It saddened me deeply  to hear that American hero John McCain was diagnosed with Glioblastoma or GBM, the most common and most malignant of brain tumors. It is simply not fair for someone who has already suffered the unimaginable horrors of war and captivity to now have to endure the pain of Brain Cancer. Senator McCain will be 1 of nearly 24,000 people diagnosed with primary brain cancer this year in the U.S. Not a lot in the grand scheme, but for almost 24,000 people and their families, it’s devastating. The median survival is 16 months and the effects of the disease and treatment deeply impact quality of life.

Senator McCain has already had surgery to have as much of the tumor removed as possible, but he will most likely go through a treatment regimen which combines radiation and an oral form of chemotherapy. For most who suffer from GBM, treatment only really prolongs life because the tumor is almost guaranteed to grow back even after chemotherapy and radiation. Through the next few weeks, the McCain family will learn all about Brain Cancer and the devastating effects it has on those who have to endure it, just like another political powerhouse family, the Bidens did a couple years ago.

Former Vice President Biden lost his son Beau to Brain Cancer in 2015, and since then has made it his mission to radically change the way that cancer research and treatments are done with the Cancer Moonshot initiative. The Cancer Moonshot initiative has been a point we can all rally around, and hopefully, these additional efforts will speed new treatments for patients everywhere. 

There are big changes happening in cancer research, and there is every reason to hope that discoveries will be made faster than ever before. Initiatives like, funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation, make cancer research data open to researchers around the world. Additionally, researchers are willing to push their work into new frontiers, like the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC) and Pacific Pediatric Neuro Oncology Consortium (PNOC) hospitals who have agreed to share data live during a clinical trial that is set to start later this summer. We are working closely with these initiatives, both through idea sharing and funding. Patient, family and foundation input is being heard more than ever before, and I am optimistic that Senator McCain will be a strong advocate for both himself and other patients facing a similar diagnosis.

I’m confident that Mr. McCain has the fortitude to take this disease on full steam, and everyone at Dragon Master Foundation wishes him well.   

Editor’s note: The odds of getting brain cancer is about 1 in 140 for men and 1 in 180 for women. The odds of being elected to Congress are 1 in 600,000. Let’s all hope Senator McCain continues to beat the odds!

It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Dragon Master Foundation
Wish I knew who to credit for this pic because it is awesome.

Wish I knew who to credit for this pic because it is awesome.

We get a lot of questions about Dragon Master Foundation, and whenever I have the chance to talk to someone about it, the response is amazing. They always end up saying “Wow, that’s such a big deal!” People are so generous with their support once they understand the project. The problem is, a lot of people don’t understand what we are doing and why it is needed. So I thought I’d take a moment to explain a little bit about what makes this project so special.

When David was sick, we were inside hospitals for days at a time watching people do their jobs. Technology is everywhere – from the patient bedside to databases in some unseen corner of the building. However, all of that technology seems to be locked inside each institution, with very little ability to share information from one hospital to the next.

It is like  being a horse with blinders on. You can only see a small part what’s really out there. You get a myopic view of the world. Unfortunately, that is the world most cancer doctors and researchers face. They long for more information, but it is largely out of their reach.

You may be thinking, “But what about the internet? Can’t they just send their information back and forth?” The short answer is no. Between HIPAA, different technology formats, and the sheer size of data, even the most collaborative hospitals have trouble sharing all the information researchers want to access. Collaboration would mean that a database would quickly need to warehouse petabytes of of information – a task that has only been tackled by the likes of the NSA or Google in the past.

It is an overwhelming task, to be sure, but for the first time in history, it is possible. It is possible to house genetic information and clinical data in one place so that researchers can really see the “big picture” of a patient’s health and furthermore, they can compare that patient to other patients. They can start to see why a drug works for one patient and not another. They can start to make sense out of things that are seemingly random.

It will be four years this September since we were dropped into this cancer world. I’m not a doctor or a researcher, but I’ve talked to as many as I could over that time, and every one of them has said a database like this would be an asset to them. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

And yet, we continue to spend money on tiny projects that help a single researcher or a single hospital. Please don’t misunderstand. Every researcher needs funding. Every hospital needs more help. But this is a situation of not being able to see the forrest for the trees. We need to build an infrastructure for the research data if we ever hope to move at a pace that is faster than cancer.

The good news is, we have made amazing progress. We have joined forces with the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, and Children’s Hospital of Seattle to take the database they are working on and grow it to a scale that can help pediatric and adult patients. The data is already being collected, which is a great and wonderful thing. However, it means that we are already at a place where we need vast amounts of funding in order to continue to grow.

I wake up every morning more sure that this database will change the way they do medical research. I have hope that people will begin to understand the vision that that this database represents, and that they will focus on helping us build it. You ABSOLUTELY CAN make a HUGE difference in the fight against cancer. Please share the mission of Dragon Master Foundation. Like us on Facebook ( ). Follow us on Twitter (@dragonmasterfdn and/or @amandahaddock ). Host a grass-roots fundraising event. Something as simple as dining out at a local restaurant that will donate proceeds can be a huge help with both raising money and raising awareness. Cancer is a beast that is taking lives. You can be a dragon master. Please join us today!

People You Need to Meet #38: Clint Murphy

52 People To Meet Posts

What I wish I knew before my mom got brain cancer… the value and limits of time.

Last picture with mom

For me, Friday, September 12 was like any other day in the life of a presidential campaign staffer. Working from dawn to dusk, doing everything and anything to push the ball just a touch forward in the task of getting John McCain elected as the next President of the United States. I lived and worked in Tallahassee, FL and was the Deputy Southeast Regional Campaign Manager for McCain for President.

That night, a few campaign staffers and I headed up to Marietta, GA for a GOP Unity Rally on behalf of Senator Saxby Chambliss and the Georgia Republican Party. Nearly a thousand Republican volunteers from throughout the state would be congregating, and it was a perfect time to sign up volunteers, recruit people for coalitions, and generally show the flag on behalf of Senator McCain. I had arranged for the Senator to call in to the rally and express his thanks for their support.

The night before I had talked with my mom, and I got the impression she wasn’t feeling well. During the day on Saturday, I talked with her and again got the distinct impression that something just wasn’t right. She insisted that I call her when I got back to Tallahassee that evening and that I shouldn’t worry.

The event was a success, and we were all excited about having gotten so many people signed up and engaged in the campaign. In the months before, the Obama campaign had placed staff in Georgia and tried hard to make Georgia competitive. With nothing but volunteers and me and my teams’ efforts from Tallahassee, we organized the state, built coalitions, and flexed our muscle via earned media events and scared the Obama staffers out of Georgia and into North Carolina.

I dropped everyone off at their respective homes and was entering the code to get into my apartment complex while I was on the phone with my mom. The sun was setting on what had, for me, largely been a great day. Up until that point, Saturday, September 13 had been a very successful day, and I was excited about the future. For my mom, it would be an entirely different story.

As I spoke to her, mom seemed so calm as she described to me the events of the night before and then, with what seemed to come out of nowhere, she said, “They found a mass in my head.” I believe my initial response was pure disbelief, and when she confirmed for me what she had just said, I immediately started to have a panic attack. I had to hang up the phone because I just needed to scream as loud as I could, something that I had honestly never done and have never done since.

I called back and spoke with my cousin who walked me through the events of the following day, which lead to this grim discovery. On Friday, my mom had noticed that her tongue felt thick. She called her various doctors and sadly, none of them returned her calls. She called my aunt and they decided to go to the emergency room.

Initially, my mom was told that it was likely an allergic reaction to something and she was given a prescription for an EpiPen. While getting the prescription filled at the store, mom had a full seizure and back to the emergency room she and my aunt went. It is then that they performed the CT scan and found the mass.

I wanted to drive back to Savannah right away, but between crying and already being tired, I couldn’t see clearly to do that. I went back to my apartment and began to research everything and anything as it related to brain tumors. Everything I read made me even more upset. Eventually, I went to sleep as I was crying so much I could barely see the computer screen, let alone make sense of anything I was trying to read.

The mass was large, and it had tentacles forming something like a dumbbell in my mom’s brain. The CT and MRI had suggested a Glioblastoma Multiforme Brain Tumor (GBM). A GBM is one of those diagnosis that, by and large, has had very limited hope for a long time. Innovations in treating, let alone curing, GBM have not been forthcoming. Having been so involved in politics, I knew that Senator Ted Kennedy had been recently diagnosed with the same tumor and had successful surgery to remove the tumor. I went to work researching where he went to have that done.

My mother seemed so calm as we sat in the hospital room the night before her biopsy. She wasn’t crying and showed no sign of even being nervous about what might lie in front of us. I on the other hand was a mess. I tried to keep a brave face, but I couldn’t. I was scared, sad, angry, and just about every other emotion you can imagine.

We scrambled to get all the necessary forms completed in advance of the biopsy because I was informed that if the tumor were operable; they’d likely go ahead and remove it at the same time. Worried about what condition my mom would be in afterwards, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

It was random chance that my aunt and I were walking down the hall when the surgeon came out of the operating room. He informed us that the tumor was inoperable and that it very much looked like a GBM, but would need the path report to confirm that diagnosis. Based on what he saw, he said he thought my mom had less than 3 months to live. We were dumbstruck and heartbroken. Even writing this now, I can feel that helpless feeling that I felt that day in the hospital. With everything in my being, I felt that those words just couldn’t be true.

In researching Senator Kennedy’s experience with a GBM, I saw that he went to Duke. He had surgery, was getting treatment, and doing relatively well, all things considered. I called Duke, got all the information to get a second opinion, and camped out in front of the path lab waiting on the slides so I could send the package to away in hopes my mom would be accepted as a patient.

There was no way that I could or would accept that my mom had less than 3 months to live, thus I went on a one man campaign to ensure that she got into to see the same surgeon that worked on Senator Kennedy’s tumor. My goal was to give my mom the best chance that there was to ensure she would survive this diagnosis and disease.

My mom’s 3-month diagnosis turned into an incredible 18-month experience. Through all the ups and downs over those 18 months, you might be surprised to know that, aside from the initial conversation about her possible death just before the biopsy, my mom and I only talked about her death one more time.

In February of 2010, mom and I made our final trip to Duke. It was on this trip that we had the final conversation about her possible death and she laid out for me her thoughts, as best she could, on the experience that she had gone through in fighting this tumor.

The doctors informed us that the tumor had started to grow again and that we were running out of options and were likely at the end of the line. Most people at this point would assume that we would have had Hospice assistance, but we didn’t. Even after returning home, we still did not have Hospice.

On the return home, mom shared with me that she had few regrets in life. She would do a few things differently, but all in all, she was pleased with how her life had turned out. She wasn’t angry that she had this tumor, nor was she angry that God was cutting her life short. She felt that it had all happened for a reason and that she was confident that God would use this experience she was going through for something better. She had a few people that she wanted to talk with before her journey was over and, if possible, wanted to make a trip to Hawaii. Her strength and bravery was just amazing. I was in awe.

On the other hand, I was a mess. I spent every moment of my time not spent working or taking care of mom, researching other treatment options, calling medical centers, and sending medical records to get another opinion. Sometimes those calls were so hard that I had to call back because I couldn’t control my crying. I was not prepared at all to lose my mom. I was not ready.

On February 28, my mom fell down and hit her head. She seemed fine and the doctor from Duke spoke with us and suggested that unless she seemed to be in pain that we wait and take her to her primary doctor in the morning. Mom seemed fine the rest of the day and evening, however the next morning she began to go downhill.

That Monday, I still thought we had more time! I spent the morning with her and then ran errands in the afternoon to go ahead and purchase the cemetery plot, send off yet for another 2nd opinion, and then have a conversation with my mom’s nurse at Duke about a possible hospital to hospital transfer. The nurse from Duke was the one who actually told me that we were at the end, and that there weren’t other options or opinions and that what my mom needed now more than ever was to be given permission to die. To acknowledge how hard she fought, but to let her know that it was okay for her to let go.

I returned to the hospital, and together with my family and a couple of my mom’s best friends, we sat there with her. By this time she was in a coma. I asked everyone not to cry or be sad while we were with her. We talked about my mom’s favorite flowers and a tear shed from her eye. The nurse at the hospital told me that this could last just tonight or could go on for some time, but almost as quick as she said that it seemed to come to an end. I told my mom how much I loved her, and how proud I was of her fight. I assured her that she would be going from my arms to the waiting arms of her mother and father, and that all would be okay.

Without notice, mom woke up and looked right at me. She turned her head to look at her sisters and friends and then took her last breath. Her death was both peaceful and beautiful.

When it was over, then I cried. I cried out how much I wish I had done more. I cried at how sorry I was that I hadn’t done more. I cried because while she was at peace with what she had been through, I was not, nor was I even ready. I felt like I needed more time.

Mom Hug

Since my mom’s death, I have gotten involved with the National Brain Tumor Society as the Lead Advocate for Georgia. Additionally, I am a brain tumor caregiver mentor with Immerman Angels. I want to use the experience I went through and the lessons learned to help others going through a similar situation and try my best for the experience my mom went through to be used to help benefit others.

It should be noted that when I read Senator Kennedy’s book, True Compass, he referenced his own desire to share his experience with GBM so that he could offer hope to those who faced a similar diagnosis. Knowing Senator Kennedy’s experience showed me the path to hope for my mom, and for that I am grateful.

52 People You Need To Meet: #12 Shawn Ratcliffe


What I Wish I Knew Before My Son Was Diagnosed with Brain Cancer

I wish I had known how big a role you truly play in the medical care of your loved one. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! They are nearly always right and you know your family member much better than the doctors. Also, make friends with the nurses – they can be a huge advocate when you need a different opinion or help in understanding the “system” or even getting past some of the quagmire you encounter with all the different specialists insisting on their unique treatment plan.  Ask to see the “chart” (if they will let you) so that you can better understand just what the doctors might be thinking. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you are given, keep asking, don’t be brushed aside as if you are too paranoid (“just being a Mom”), don’t back down, and know that the doctors are doing their best but in the situation of brain tumors their best is still greatly lacking in knowledge and expertise.  Every patient is different, and YOU are the best one to help your loved one. From diagnosis to death is a rollercoaster ride on every possible level, take one day at a time and always look for the positives.

For us, it started out like any other Saturday morning.  Matt and I had breakfast, no one else was up yet. He was off to get his eyes checked as we were sure that was what was causing his headaches. Not long after he arrived at the Dr’s office he sent me a text “They want me to get an MRI”. I was stunned, and in my heart, I knew we were headed for something scary.  Within a few hours, we heard the words that would change our lives forever. “A very large mass on the right front lobe of your brain. It is cancer.” He was 20 years old.  By Sunday afternoon, 24 hours later, the tennis ball size tumor had been removed, or at least 90% of it. Matty bounced back like a true warrior, despite major pain and swelling, and on Thursday afternoon, he and I walked out of the hospital, confident that the worst was behind us.  Naïve, I know.

Within a few weeks, the swelling was so bad that they had to put in a VP shunt.  Within about a month, they removed the shunt as it had caused massive infection.  He was now experiencing Grand Mal seizures, loss of memory and functionality.  Shortly after that, he was fired from his job, and we added major anxiety and depression to our list of issues.    Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  He continued to focus on school, and within just over a year, he graduated top of his class at ITT Tech. It was truly a highlight of his life.   After 6 weeks of radiation, 11 months of chemo, and 5 stays in the hospital we finally heard the words “no evidence of tumor”, and it looked like we were finally getting a break!

With his confidence at an all-time high, he accepted a job in San Francisco, California, and we moved him out there.  I was, of course, devastated and proud all at the same time.  There were many struggles during the 18 months he was there.  He had just gotten his dream job working for Google when we realized the infection had never really gone away, and two more surgeries would be required.  The first was to remove the infected brain plate and start him on aggressive antibiotics.  Of course, during that time the cancer returned, and by the time they were able to replace the brain plate, the tumor had grown to the size of a fist.  It was stage 4 and angry.  The doctor was so aggressive in the recession of the tumor for the fifth and final surgery that Matty lost half of his eyesight in both eyes, the use of his entire left side, his short term memory, and some of his cognitive skills.  We managed to get him home to Valley Center, Kansas after an extensive stay in the hospital and quickly signed up for a clinical trial through Mayo Clinic.  But to no avail.

Just days after his 24th birthday, we were told there was nothing more they could do.  Matty wanted to go home and party with his family and friends and that is just what we did.  For the 3 weeks and 3 days he was with us, we opened our home to anyone, anytime.  Friends and family came from all over the country to spend time with him, reminisce about the good times and embrace the present, soaking in every moment with him. It was such a difficult time filled with tears, laughter, heartbreak, stress, and always love. Lots of love.

Matthew came into this world on a Sunday morning at 8:53am as a content, happy baby boy and left on a Sunday morning at 8:35am as a peaceful young man ready to let go of this life and seek out new adventures. It was a true privilege to be with my son for both. I cherish the memories that help me never forget, help me learn, help me survive.

During his entire fight my son displayed a kindness and gentleness that I could only watch, I felt none of that.  He always thanked everyone for their assistance and never lost his patience, despite severe pain at times.  He was constantly trying to help people feel comfortable with his cancer, with a ready quip or comeback to make them laugh.  Often times when a nurse finally arrived with pain meds to help with a horrible headache, he would purpose marriage and make them know he appreciated their efforts. I, on the other hand, was tenacious if not demanding when it came to his care and pain management.  His last effort to help others was to donate his body to science.  It was his hope that somehow he just might help find a cure so others would not have to endure what he did.

My wish is for everyone to enjoy today, whatever it brings, and make the most of it.   My son is gone in body, but he lives on in our hearts and our memories.  I am a better person having experienced this pain and heartache, no matter how awful it has seemed at times. It has softened the rough edges, dimmed the harsh blacks and whites and helped me focus more on the moment. I have finally come to a sort of peace with the fact that I’m alive and healthy, despite my desperate pleas that I be allowed to somehow take his place.  Matthew is my hero, and I just hope that I can make him as proud of me as I am of him!  Live, Laugh, Love