From Surgery to Support: Hoag Helps Couple Wage Battle on Brain Cancer

Things just went blank. Cindy Godshall was standing in a hotel lobby in Beijing, China when an unfamiliar man touched her arm.

“Cindy, do you know who I am?” the man asked.

She didn’t, but she should have. Godshall, a flight attendant, had traveled many times with the pilot, who was now gently holding her arm. He helped her to a nearby couch, and moments later Godshall suffered a seizure. She ended up in a Chinese hospital, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Mark Franklin’s scenario was a little different. Franklin went for help after he realized he was having trouble putting sentences together and identifying everyday objects. As he sat in a hospital bed getting ready for surgery at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, his neurosurgeon, Dr. Christopher Duma, pointed to his watch.

“Can you tell me what this is?” Duma asked.

“Doc, I know what it is but I just can’t tell you right now,” the 58-year-old answered back.

Dr. Duma asked the question again, this time showing a ballpoint pen. The answer was the same for Franklin. He couldn’t recall — things just went blank. Franklin also had a brain tumor, the same kind as Godshall — a grade four glioblastoma, the most malignant and aggressive brain tumor.

Though their journeys started oceans apart, they would merge at Hoag where Franklin and Godshall found world-class clinical care that would help them defy the odds and find each other.

EXPERT SURGEON, LEADING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY

When Godshall returned home from China after her December 2012 diagnosis, she didn’t know where to start.

“I had no knowledge of what I was doing, where I was going,” she said. “I was just absolutely lucky that I got to Hoag and Dr. Duma.”

She immediately trusted him, she said. “I didn’t have time to prepare or reason for anything,” she said. “I took Dr. Duma for his word and I felt secure.”

Franklin, who found Dr. Duma through research and recommendations, said he was calmed by the neurosurgeon’s demeanor.

“He was very sure of himself, and I like that a lot in a person,” Franklin said. “If someone is going to be opening up my melon, I want someone who is sure of himself.”

Godshall underwent surgery in December 2012, Franklin in May 2013. Both were successful.

“Dr. Duma told me, ‘When you get out of surgery, you’re going to be 95 percent back to where you were’,” Franklin said. “The first thing I said to him when I woke up was, ‘Hey doc, nice wrist watch you’re wearing and I like your ballpoint pen.’”

After surgery and chemotherapy, the patients underwent Gamma Knife radiosurgery — a focused single dose of radiation to stop or reduce the growth of abnormal cells by distorting the DNA mapping of the tumor cells, preventing them from dividing. It is the most precise technology to treat malignant cells that were once unreachable with previous technology.

Hoag was the first hospital in Southern California and the only hospital in Orange County to offer the Leksell Gamma Knife® Perfexion™.

Godshall said when she sat in the room, ready to undergo treatment, she was asked if she needed anything.

“A little Bob Seger would be nice,” she said.

The radiation oncologists cued up her tunes so Godshall could relax while the gamma knife targeted the cancer cells in her brain.

Franklin said he underwent the same therapy with one small difference: “I requested Tears for Fears.”

With the type of tumor Franklin and Godshall were diagnosed with, median survival is about 15 months. But with Hoag Neurosciences and Hoag Family Cancer Institutes’ highly sub-specialized approach to diseases of the brain, Godshall and Franklin are defying the odds.

It’s been nearly three years since Godshall’s diagnosis, and two years and eight months for Franklin.

“We’ve both had at least seven MRIs and Dr. Duma can’t find anything,” Franklin said. “He thinks we’re kind of rock stars.”

While surgery and treatment went as planned, Franklin and Godshall were faced with an unforeseen challenge in their journey — the emotional toll of battling brain cancer.

FINDING SUPPORT

Godshall didn’t think she needed to attend a support group until Brain Tumor Program Nurse Navigator Lori Berberet, RN, MS, stepped in.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Cindy, you’re always smiling and you’re not smiling today’,” Godshall said. “And I just started to cry and said, ‘I know. I don’t know what’s happening to me.’”

Berberet suggested Godshall take advantage of Hoag’s unique and highly sought-after brain tumor support group. The group draws patients from all over Orange County, including those treated at other hospitals.

Godshall joined the monthly sessions, where Franklin was already a member.

“You don’t even realize how much you really need that group until you get there,” she said. “That group accepts everything that people are going to say, no matter what they share.”

Franklin and Godshall were free to share their fears, frustrations, challenges and successes. No matter what the subject, people in that room understood, Godshall said.

“Sometimes it takes courage to come to the group, but then you walk in and realize everyone is just like you are,” she said.

Franklin said it helped him release feelings he was afraid to share with anyone else.

“This group is really important because all of your family and friends are looking at you and if you go to pieces, they’re all going to go to pieces,” he said. “The more you can give them the thumbs up, the better.”

The two participated in the group for about a year until Godshall called Franklin and asked him out — coffee or cocktails, his choice. He said yes, then asked when.

“I said, ‘Today!’” Godshall recalled. “Time is of the essence and we don’t waste it.”

The two have been dating ever since. They watch sunsets, go for walks and finish each other’s sentences. They continue to attend the group and support each other through follow-up tests and appointments. Their relationship is effortless, and Franklin said he knows why.

“Well, Cindy’s tumor was on the right-hand side and mine was on the left, so when we put our heads together, we have a full brain,” he said.

They both credit the life they love today to the physicians, surgeons, radiation oncologists and nurse navigators who made up their comprehensive team at Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute and Hoag Family Cancer Institute, including Dr. Christopher Duma, Peter Chen, Dr. Brian Kim and Dr. Amanda Schwer.

“Our experience from surgery to radiation to chemo to Gamma Knife to the support group has been world-class,” Franklin said. “Hoag knows exactly what they’re doing.”

Added Godshall: “I am grateful for every day I see the sun come up. I thank God all the time for the support we have around us."

“I just feel warm and happy that I have a little more time.”