Jackie McKenna

jackie mckenna
In the fall of 2007 I was living in a small remote town in Alaska with my family and teaching in an elementary school. I had just earned my Master’s degree in reading education. My husband had recently advanced to the rank of chief in The United States Coast Guard. Life was definitely good. Not long after the start of the school year, I noticed some slight numbness in my left hand. I didn’t think much of it because after all, numb fingers in Alaska are not unusual. But then I noticed numbness on the left side of my face so I made a doctor’s appointment.

One by one my Dr. eliminated possibilities. Finally he scheduled an MRI and on December 26th, a mass was found in the motor cortex that controls movement for my left side. Soon after, my husband and I left Alaska for Seattle. We found nothing but bad news there. I was told by two different neurosurgeons at two different centers that it was inoperable, and I had only months to live. My husband describes this time as feeling as if we’d been hit by a freight train. After Seattle, we moved on to Duke University in North Carolina. They were much more optimistic and thought that surgery may be an option but more tests were required. In the meantime we heard about MD Anderson in Houston.

We made an appointment and met with Dr. Amy Heimberger. On January 24, 2008, she performed life-saving surgery removing the mass and extending my life. The bad news was that it was confirmed to be a GBM. I had 6 weeks of radiation and chemo. Since then I have been on four different courses of treatment. I’ve been on my current treatment since fall 2008. It is a study drug. It hasn’t been easy; I have almost no use of my left arm or hand (I was left-handed). However, I am able to walk, drive and care for my husband and my two daughters who are both teenagers now. And of course they take good care of me. I am sure I wouldn’t be here without them. I no longer work outside the home except some volunteer work.

A few months after the surgery we moved to Houston and lived there for five years. Summer of 2013 we moved back to our home town in Florida. But I return to Houston every 12 weeks to have a scan and check-up. This is a requirement of the study and a small price to pay for a treatment which, so far, is working for me.

I would like to thank Dr. Amy Heimberger, the best neurosurgeon I’ve ever met, Dr. John de Groot, Julie Walker, and Kathy Hunter my neuro-oncology dream-team.