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Awake Brain Surgery Saves Bender

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WGEM) -- Age is one of the biggest risk factors for cancer.

In fact, nine out of ten cancer cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 45 and seniors older than 74 make up more than a quarter of cancer cases.

There's a particular type of cancer that targets people in their 30s to early 40s and the story of how one young man in his 20s assisted doctors to save his life.

25-year-old Bender Middlekauff was at the prime of his life, enjoying hanging out with his friends and family. But then one seizure changed everything.

“I remember making this weird noise and then Hunter was shaking me saying ‘What’s happening? What’s happening?’” explained Middlekauff.

His roommate called 911 and at the hospital an MRI showed a brain tumor.

“The look on my mom’s face was just like … I couldn’t even stomach it,” Middlekauff shared.

Middlekauff was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer that primarily affects adults in their 30’s and 40’s.

“So, an oligodendroglioma, we may see around seven or 800 cases a year in the United States,” stated Robert Cavaliere, MD, Program Director of Neuro-Oncology at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The average survival is about 10 years.

“But when you consider the fact that your average patient is 35 to 40 years old, ten-year survival is not ideal,” continued Dr. Cavaliere.

Doctors were going to have to treat the cancer aggressively. The only problem was the tumor was located near the areas of the brain responsible for speech.

“One of the options we have is to be able to do the surgery with the patient being awake. So that gives us a direct live feedback,” said Eric Sauvageau, MD, Surgical Director of Neurology at Baptist Health.

During surgery Middlekauff had to keep talking so doctors could know whether they were touching an area that should be left alone. Five hours later, the surgery was a success. Six weeks later …

“I carded my second hole in one,” smiled Middlekauff.

Putting his life back on course.

After surgery Middlekauff had to do six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy to make sure all of the cancer is gone.

A seizure is the most common symptom of an oligodendroglioma, the same type of tumor Middlekauff had.

About 60 percent of cases are diagnosed right after a seizure.

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Don Dwyer

Don Dwyer is a Morning Anchor/Reporter at WGEM.

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