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Meet Brad Parkins

Brad was diagnosed in spring of 2020 with Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Here, he talks about his cancer journey.

Please tell us about your journey.

My journey began in May 2020. I was used to working from home, but I noticed that responding to email was becoming difficult. At night, I would wake up with severe headaches. Medication would get me through the night, but something felt wrong.

I went to see my primary care physician, and he suggested that we try to see if I had a sinus infection. Of course, my headaches continued. I began having trouble with my balance and started walking into walls, so I scheduled an MRI. After the MRI, before I had even finished getting dressed, my doctor was calling me and my wife to say that we needed to get to Northwestern Memorial Hospital immediately because the MRI revealed a sizeable 6 cm lesion in the right side of my brain. 

I had brain surgery on June 5 with Dr. Lesniak and Dr. Sonabend. During my hospital stay, we met Dr. Stupp, who is such a kind and humble person.  

 

What have you learned most about yourself through this journey?

I have learned to appreciate the love and generosity from family and friends, and random acts of kindness from strangers. One of these many random acts occurred when it was time for me to shave my head and become Bald Brad. I went to a local barber, and when it was time to pay, I was told that another customer had already paid for my haircut because his mother was a cancer survivor. I shed a few tears because I was so moved by this kind act. 

I have also learned that my family is so very strong. My wife Jen, my 17-year-old daughter Katie and my 15-year-old son Jack have been amazing and inspire me to thrive. 

 

The word “respect” has a unique meaning for you. Please share the story behind this. 

Everyone has their own way of accepting or tackling their cancer. After careful consideration, I decided the phrase “Respect the Journey” best described my feelings about my diagnosis and life going forward.

Why journey? I quickly learned that every week could take you down a new and different path. One week my bloodwork was OK; the next week my liver count was off, so I knew that I was on a journey. Jen and I have been fortunate to vacation in Jamaica a few times. In Jamaica, respect is a common term of acceptance, recognition and understanding. One of our favorite people in Jamaica was protective of Jen and took time to warm up to me. After spending a day sitting with him at his Banyon tree bar, it was time for us to return home.  As I stood up to leave, he looked me in the eyes, and with a sincere and deep voice, he said "RESPECT."  It meant so much more than "goodbye." He was telling me that he knew I was a good person, and from that point on, we have remained close

So, Respect the Journey serves as a constant reminder that I will continue to respect everything that comes my way while embracing what my journey offers.   

 

How have you found a sense of normalcy during your cancer journey? 

I’ve always felt like a person at Malnati Brain Tumor Institute, not a patient. Whether it was the warm greetings during my daily radiation treatments, or the team remembering what I had planned for the coming weekend, I’ve always felt like myself. GBM is no walk in the park, yet I also know my care team truly wants to help me have the best experience possible. 

 

What are you most grateful for?

The kindness and generosity of others. Within days of being diagnosed, the company I work for and my colleagues found ways to bring constant smiles to my face. I received so many notes and cards, and generous and thoughtful gestures. I heard from people I worked with 20 years ago.   

Friends set up a “meal train” that gave us extra time to focus on us. Our dinners are full of conversations and laughter (and some debates), and I am truly grateful for those memories.    

 

If you could describe your care team at Malnati Brain Tumor Institute in three words, what would they be and why?

Genuine: I cannot wait to celebrate with my care team as I consider all of them to be my friends. They look out for me, and I just know every single person cares about my health. 

Dedicated: Somehow, my team is always accessible. Our emails with random questions always get thoughtful replies. Even when Dr. Stupp is traveling the globe, we know he will reach out and offer comforting words.

Inspired: When you are part of MBTI, you cannot help but be inspired. There is a highly focused, yet calming presence around you. You cannot sugarcoat GBM. Yet MBTI has allowed me to embrace it and move forward. 

 

What are you looking forward to? 

Becoming a long-term survivor, as I am encouraged by my current treatment (Optune). I am also optimistic about the groundbreaking research that is happening at Northwestern Medicine and research facilities around the world. Personally, I am excited to tour colleges with my daughter, help Jack learn to drive and make new memories with my family.