A Beloved Stepmom, and a Doctor’s Outstanding Care

Elaine with her two granddaughters, Zoe (left) and Sydney

By Judy Germany

When I learned that Nina Paleologos, MD, was coming to Rush University Medical Center to join the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Brain and Spine Tumor Clinic, I felt a jumble of emotions. Dr. P, as a lot of people call her, will always be inextricably linked to one of the worst periods of my life — the 20 months during which my beloved stepmom, Elaine, was diagnosed with, treated for and succumbed to brain cancer. Dr. Paleologos was Elaine’s neuro-oncologist, so the only times I ever saw here were during Elaine’s appointments, and it’s impossible to separate my grief from the doctor who delivered the news that caused that grief.

But at the same time, I’m thrilled she’s here. She provided outstanding care for Elaine — not just the clinical trial that kept the tumor from growing back immediately, as aggressive brain tumors will do if left untreated, but the empathy and honesty she showed our family. One thing I’ve learned working at Rush for the past 13 years is that the term “good outcome” doesn’t always mean the person recovers fully and goes on to live a long and happy life. For brain cancer, a good outcome may mean the person lives an extra three months, or six, and has more quality time with his or her family. The median survival for patients with glioblastomas like Elaine’s is 18 months from diagnosis; Elaine exceeded that, but even more important, she had a really good quality of life almost the entire time. She didn’t experience significant decline until the last 1-2 weeks, and right up to that point she was living her life, absolutely convinced she was going to beat this wretched disease. She never talked about dying; she spoke of the future as if it were guaranteed.

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Tribune Profiles Brain Tumor Surgeon at Rush

Richard Byrne, MD, a neurosurgeon at Rush who treats patients diagnosed with brain cancer, was profiled Sunday in a Chicago Tribune article by reporter Deborah L. Shelton:

In an area of medicine that many might view as bleak, Byrne finds inspiration, a sense of reward and hope. In addition to buying precious weeks or months for terminally ill patients, he contributes to research into these deadly cancers, hoping to see progress in treatment within his lifetime.

“What keeps me going is the fact that there are a lot of people who need us. Most of them come to us desperate and scared,” said Byrne, whose penetrating gaze and low-key presence convey both intensity and calm.

Byrne is part of the Brain Tumor Center at Rush and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery.

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