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Brad SilverBrain Cancer |  Diagnosed Age 44

What I loved is that there were no weird foreign medicines in it. It was everything from me, just put back in.

Brad's Story

You might say Brad Silver is used to being exceptional. As a teenager, he was an All-American swimmer, ranked 16th in the nation. He attended the University of Southern California on a water polo scholarship. By his junior year, he was lifeguarding in Huntington Beach, CA, and would go on to become a prominent swimming teacher and water polo coach. 
 
When the 44-year-old former star athlete started getting migraines, he knew something was wrong. After seeing a neurologist, Brad learned he had glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a rare brain cancer with a very poor prognosis. An MRI detected a golf-ball-sized tumor in his left lateral lobe.
 
Doctors initially said his tumor was inoperable and estimated he had two months to live. Brad would be lucky to see the birth of his son—his wife was 7 months pregnant at the time. Not satisfied with that prognosis, Brad sought out other options. Through friends and relatives, he eventually found his way to Linda Liau, M.D., Ph.D., a skilled neurosurgeon at UCLA medical center.
 
Dr. Liau was conducting a clinical trial of a new immunotherapy designed for patients like Brad. Developed first at UCLA and then later licensed and marketed by Northwest Biotherapeutics as DCVax®-L, the immunotherapy is a vaccine made up of a patient’s own dendritic cells (DC) treated with proteins from the patient’s tumor. The tumor proteins provide antigens that “teach” the DCs to recognize the tumor cells. The educated dendritic cells are then injected back into the patient where they stimulate an immune response against the cancer.
 
Brad had surgery to remove the tumor and received the vaccine treatment in 2003 as part of a clinical trial. Eleven years later, he’s still coaching swimming, giving kayak tours, and skateboarding to doctors’ visits.

Question and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

When the 44-year-old former star athlete started getting migraines, he knew something was wrong. After seeing a neurologist, Brad learned he had glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a rare brain cancer with a very poor prognosis. An MRI detected a golf-ball-sized tumor in his left lateral lobe.

How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?

We ended up deciding to get a second and third opinion. Luckily, between my wife and me, we knew the right people. One valuable piece of advice I got, from a neurosurgeon, was that I needed to explore surgery further. He told me if they can take out 10 percent, that can keep you alive long enough to get to see your son born. Because that was my main goal—I wanted to see my son. 
 
When I met with the doctors at UCLA, the first thing I had asked was, “Can you do surgery?” And then the second question I asked was, “What do you have for clinical trials?” Most patients don’t look into that. But because I mistakenly looked at all the nasty statistics of GBM patients, I knew I needed to find something different. I was open to anything. Also, being a teacher, I thought that even if the clinical trial didn’t work for me, it would allow doctors to learn and help others.

What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

What I loved is that there are no weird foreign medicines in it. It was everything from me, just put back in. The vaccine was made up of my white blood cells—my dendritic cells—and the protein from my tumor mixed together.

It was a piece of cake. The first time I went in, they gave me a tiny little Benadryl 30 minutes before and it kind of knocked me out. After that first one, I told Dr. Liau there’s no reason for me to do this. I’m not freaking out about it.
How did immunotherapy compare to other treatments you may have received, if any?

I was lucky. My tumor really was the size and shape of a golf ball. A little bit smaller than a golf ball. Dr. Liau said, “Look, I think I got it all, but it always has these weird little streams that go off.” And so she recommended I have chemo.

My chemo was for two years: 21 days on, 7 days off. I’d feel like absolute crap and then just as I was starting to feel okay, I’d go back on. Intravenous (IV) chemo does not work for brains, it doesn’t go there. So the chemo for brain cancer is a tablet called Temodar. This chemo doesn’t make you lose hair. But it really does hit everything else. It gives you major constipation, it takes away all of your taste buds. It took me a good two years to get them back. And then there was the complete exhaustion.

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

Patient education information supported by a charitable donation from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.
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