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Sharing Our Journey at the ABTA National Conference

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Rick Franzo, patient panelist at the ABTA National Conference

Rick Franzo, brain tumor survivor, shares his personal experience as a panelist at the ABTA National Conference

Read about Rick Franzo’s experience as a patient panelist at the 2021 National Conference and how the experience was humbling and empowering for him, his wife and others going through the brain tumor journey.

I should be dead… not cliché, not overly dramatic, totally fact.  But we’ll get to that in a minute. 

As I reflect on participating and being a panelist on the “Living with a Brain Tumor: Patient & Caregiver Panel” at the 2021 ABTA National Conference this year, I can say it was a phenomenal honor for my wife, Debbie and me. We’re grateful to be part of an organization with such a focus on support, awareness and research on behalf of the hundreds of thousands in the United States affected by brain tumors. So many experts presented to share the latest research and strategies in treatment and care.

ABTA National Conference Patient and Caregiver Panel

Rick and Debbie (top right) talk about their brain tumor journey at the 2021 National Conference, moderated by Heather E. Leeper, MD, MS (top right) and another patient-caregiver pair, Natalie and Brandon (bottom).

At the ABTA National Conference, I shared my brain tumor journey, particularly the symptoms I experienced at diagnosis, treatment and recovery, and how we managed those symptoms. My wife Debbie shared some insights on what it’s like to be the caregiver to someone with a brain tumor. It was a humbling experience for us both to share our journey with the brain tumor community.

Believe it or not, speaking about our experiences in front of hundreds of people across the world was not intimidating for either of us. What brought about the most intense emotions was the process to relive the journey from the beginning. It only took five words to experience those emotions, “You have a brain tumor.”

For my wife Debbie, the National Conference Patient and Caregiver Panel took her back to the day I was diagnosed, and how she shifted in the blink of an eye from the role of spouse to caregiver. I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like. Despite the pain of reliving this, Debbie knew the importance of sharing our experiences with others and showing that people in similar situations are not alone. She is dedicated to helping others, wherever they are on their brain tumor journey. Caregivers are the true MVP’s of the brain tumor journey. The conference had a huge takeaway for us, which is that hope is a real and tangible thing you can wrap your arms around.

If you don’t already know, the ABTA National Conference is the largest national meeting for brain tumor patients, survivors, caregivers and families. Nationally-recognized medical professionals, researchers and experts from institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, University of California, San Francisco, Mayo Clinic, Harvard University Medical School, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center and others, presented the latest advances in brain tumor treatment and care. There were sessions on brain surgery advancements; personalized medicine; clinical trials; patient navigation; an interactive social hour where we actually got to meet and talk to each other and much, much more.

I’m proud to say that more than a thousand people from the United States and around the world registered for this high-caliber conference. You can view the conference recordings on the ABTA’s YouTube Channel.

How Horseshoes Saved My Life

Three-time brain tumor survivor, Rick Franzo shares his journey at the National Conference.

Now, back to the “I should be dead part” and brain tumors.

In 2009, I found out I had a brain tumor unexpectedly at a BBQ while playing a game of horseshoes. All of sudden I lost all strength and coordination on my right side. It was enough to send me to a doctor and get an MRI, where we found a huge tumor crushing my brain and pushing against my skull. Two teams of neurosurgeons successfully removed the entire tumor, but the damage was nearly too much. I became paralyzed from the waist down after the surgery. Fortunately, I was able to walk again after a month and half of rehabilitation. I walked out of my last therapy session on my own. Subsequent regular MRI scans showed two more brain tumors.  The second, in 2011 was a small meningioma that is continuing to behave and is stable, and the third tumor in 2017, a rare acoustic neuroma that impacted my hearing, was treated with Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and has stopped growing.

Read more about my brain tumor experience

Attend the Next ABTA National Conference

The 2022 ABTA National Conference will be held online September 9-10. Interested in attending the ABTA National Conference next year? Sign up for notifications when registration opens.