Expert Insights

Expert Insights

Grant Wojtczak’s Journey with Glimatosis Cerebri

Grant Wojtczak’s Journey with Glimatosis Cerebri
27 February 2019

By: Monica Jewell, HR Coordinator

Our early twenties are supposed to be spent exploring, growing, and finding out where we belong in this world. For my childhood best friend, Grant Wojtczak, his early twenties were cut short due to two words: glimatosis cerebri. Two words I would have wished to never encounter.

Gliomatosis cerebri is a rare neurological disease that takes shape as a primary tumor that spreads across the brain. In many cases, if surgery is possible, this would be the first step to tackle the tumor. Unfortunately, Grant’s brain tumor was inoperable. He was given 6-12 months to live. Back in 2007 I remember scouring the internet for any information about this rare disease, and it was dismal. Even now, when you search the internet you will find that gliomatosis cerebri is so rare that most doctors have never seen it.

Before the cancer, Grant was one of those people who could light up any room. He was goofy, handsome, smart, athletic, played guitar and enjoyed life. We met in middle school and instantly connected over our love of all things music, animals, and scary movies. He was a star water polo player at Poway High and it was always fun watching him play. His parents, Ann and Henry, were always so generous and had our friend group over to their home to hang out, watch movies, hold band practice, and enjoy all those random pizza parties. We were all lucky to be a part of Grant’s family.

Towards the end of senior year things started to shift for Grant, he became unmotivated, unorganized and couldn’t seem to concentrate. We all could sense a change. A year after graduation in 2007, I received a call from his number, although when I picked up the phone it was his mom on the other line. A phone call that begins with “Monica, are you sitting down?” never indicates a good conversation. Ann began to tell me there was something terribly wrong with Grant, he woke up earlier in the week unable to read or write and struggled to put together sentences. After several doctor appointments Grant was diagnosed with gliomatosis cerebri; his mood changes in the recent years began to make sense.

Grant’s dad, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, immediately worked hard to get Grant the best treatment possible, with his mom, who worked at the USS Midway, supporting her son the entire journey. Although Grant was given 6-12 months to live he beat those odds and survived for 2 years with the cancer. Grant endured chemotherapy, radiation, and tried other therapies; he was a fighter and the love of his family was strong. Although he often asked “why?” and wanted nothing more than to be a normal twenty-something, his spirit never died. He did as much as he physically could, got an amazing tattoo and had his ears pierced, traveled to Hawaii, walked in Relay for Life, attended concerts of his favorite bands, and never stopped smiling. He soon lost motor movement in his hands as well as the stability to walk, and he endured the strong effects of chemo and radiation.

When Grant was no longer able to communicate we would just sit in his backyard, listening to music and enjoying the moments we knew we had left together. The non-verbal communication you can share with someone suffering from a rare disease is powerful. Anyone who knows someone with a rare disease knows the feeling of being shaken to their core. Whether it’s a promising MRI scan one week to a terrible one the next, there are always ups and downs, but it is important to not give up hope. Grant never did. Grant always saw himself as a survivor, no matter the outcome. Each day was a fight for him and, when he passed away on May 4, 2009, his body left this earth but he is survived through his family, his friends, and his never ending spirit that touched everyone who knew him. Never give up hope.

Grant Henry Wojtczak Jan 2, 1988 – May 4, 2009

Peace and Love Forever

Epilogue
Many of us at Synteract came to the clinical research industry because of a story like Grant’s. Our whole team understands that the importance and impact of what we do is to improve lives, and to give hope when the situation seems hopeless.

Although it came too late for Grant, there is now a research project trying to address this terrible disease that strikes mostly teens and young adults. The Children's Brain Tumor Project was founded in 2011 at the Weill Cornell Pediatric Brain and Spine Center. The project owes its inspiration and launch to Elizabeth Minter, whose battle with her own rare and inoperable gliomatosis cerebri tumor, inspired her surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield, to undertake this groundbreaking research initiative. Here’s more on it: http://weillcornellbrainandspine.org/childrens-brain-tumor-project. Never give up hope.


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