“The brain is an organ unlike any other,” says Dr. Chandler. “Anytime someone is facing a brain treatment or surgery, it’s a shock. The brain is the seed of your soul and impacts your personality, bodily functions, and the way you interact with your family. We take that very seriously.”
Perry Ballard III, M.D., a medical oncologist, says a brain tumor can affect neurological function, which impacts personality, speech and motor functions.
“It’s a frightening thing to have cancer inside your brain,” says Dr. Ballard.
Brain tumor surgery
The most common first step in brain tumor treatment is surgery.
“Brain surgery needs to be very precise. It’s a very delicate operation,” says Dr. Chandler.
Neuroanesthesiologist Jeffrey Shapiro, M.D. says because the brain tumor treatment process often moves so quickly, any time he and the team spends with a patient before a procedure is crucial.
“We have a very short period of time to develop that important patient-doctor relationship,” he explains. “We need to alleviate their fears, and let them know they’re in great hands, we’ve got tremendous experience, we will take good care of them and keep them comfortable afterward.”
He says patients should know that their care team is advocating for them during the entire treatment process.
“We’re there to guide the patient and be the patient advocate in the operating room,” says Dr. Shapiro.
Brain tumor radiation treatment
“We do radiation treatments we could only dream about doing 10 or 15 years ago,” says Fred Schwaibold, D.O., a radiation oncologist.
“We’re able to deliver the radiation dose to a very specific target and spare sounding normal tissue, which in the brain is critically important. The radiation machines today do that exceptionally well.”
A team approach to care
Adam Nowlan, M.D., a radiation oncologist, says what sets the team apart is its willingness to go above and beyond for patients.
The team communicates regularly, shares patient information back and forth in a rapid fashion to optimize treatment, and if someone needs immediate care, they receive it.
“If someone is seen in the morning and needs to see a radiation oncologist that afternoon, that is going to happen,” says Dr. Nowlan. “If they need a GammaKnife the next day or two days later, that’s going to happen.”
Patient navigation and care coordination
“We have a fundamental, comprehensive approach to how we treat brain tumor patients that I think is unique and helpful,” says Bill Jonas, M.D., an oncologist. “We have a brain tumor navigator who intimately gets to know our patients and their families, and helps them through the process.”
“Clinical coordination and patient navigation are very important because it’s a complicated journey,” says Freda Wall, PA-C, clinical coordinator at the Brain Tumor Center. “When you get the initial diagnosis, you have no idea what you are supposed to do.”
Clinical coordinators like Wall guide patients and their families through treatment options.
“The patient is probably going to undergo some severe treatments, so that caregiver needs a point person who can explain options that make sense and that caregivers can understand,” says Betsy Orr, whose husband Larry was treated for a malignant brain tumor at Piedmont. “To have someone like Freda there as a point person is invaluable.”
Orr’s financial support, in memory of her late husband, has allowed the Brain Tumor Center to hire a clinical coordinator and patient navigator to help other patients and families through a brain tumor diagnosis.
The team’s dedication to better patient care
“The most rewarding part of my job is ministering to patients,” says Dr. Chandler. “Being the first person a patient and family comes into contact with, I get to help them understand what is wrong, calm their fears, take them to surgery and make a diagnosis. Sometimes everything is not okay, sometimes everything is okay, but at least I get to help them understand it and coordinate their care, then follow them all the way through.”
Dr. Nowlan adds that the brain tumor team shares a sense of camaraderie, both with one another and patients.
“There’s a willingness to wrap your arms around the patient and really take care of them,” he says.
“With the strong team of doctors and the access to technology that we have, we bring the two essential elements together to deliver the best possible care that can be done,” says Dr. Schwaibold.
Learn more about the Brain Tumor Center at Piedmont.