A fit and healthy father diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer shares the warning signs everyone should know after mistakenly assuming his headaches were caused by his vigorous job.
Lee Wolfe, 44, resigned as business development manager in April after he attributed periodic migraines to the stresses of his career.
But a week later, around 6 a.m. on Anzac Day, he had a seizure that caused him to fall and hit his head while making a bottle for his youngest son Jack, one, at their home in Brisbane, Queensland.
In retrospect, the father of two said he also experienced bouts of blurred vision in the months leading up to his attack — a telltale sign he wants others to know about.
Business development manager Lee Wolfe with his wife Laura and their two sons Max (left) and Jack (right) at their home in Brisbane, Queensland
Lee’s wife Laura, 32, couldn’t carry him to the car and called an ambulance to take him to the hospital, where scans showed a large tumor in his hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory.
Two weeks later, the couple’s world collapsed when Lee was diagnosed with advanced glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer that gives patients an average life expectancy of 12 months.
Doctors say Lee’s tumor is useless because of its size and position, embedded deep in the lower half of the brain, where it wraps “like spider legs” around life-supporting blood vessels and complex nervous systems.
They say that trying to remove the growth would almost certainly cause irreparable damage to vital components that control abilities, such as speech and emotion, that make him who he is.
Lee’s tumor is a diffuse astrocytoma, which grows outward in shoots rather than in a neat, round shape.
After an attack around 6 a.m. on Anzac Day, Lee’s wife Laura (pictured on their wedding day) called an ambulance to take him to the hospital where scans showed a tumor in his brain
‘It spins out, almost like legs wrapping around different parts of the brain. That makes it useless,” Laura explained.
She recalled finding her husband “dazzled and confused” the morning of his attack, as he was still trying to feed their son as blood dripped down his face.
He kept saying, ‘I don’t know what happened’, his eyes couldn’t focus. It was so bizarre, I’ve never seen him like this before,” she told the Daily Mail Australia.
“He’s a very strong, fit, muscular man, so you can’t imagine someone like that being like he was that day.”
The doting father (pictured with his youngest son, Jack) had headaches and blurred vision in the months leading up to his diagnosis, but mistakenly assumed they were caused by stress from his vigorous job
Lee is one of approximately 1,879 Australians who develop a brain tumor each year, according to the government health data show.
While figures for glioblastoma patients are not regularly recorded, a 2013 report lists 982 new cases in Australia that year alone.
Glioblastoma is a rare and highly malignant cancer that usually develops in the cerebral hemispheres – the main body – of the brain, but it can also grow in any area or in the spinal cord.
The tumors are particularly malignant because they grow rapidly, supported by an extensive network of blood vessels that run through the brain.
Glioblastoma is most common in older adults, but is known to occur in children and teens.
Warning signs include headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light, as well as nausea, vomiting, double vision, and confusion.
But as Lee’s story proves, the disease can progress quickly and insidiously with hardly any symptoms.
Once glioblastoma has progressed to level four, patients typically have a prognosis of 12 to 14 months.
Symptoms of glioblastoma
Glioblastoma is a rare and highly malignant brain tumor that usually develops in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain (the main body), but can also occur in any area of the brain or spinal cord.
They are particularly malignant because they grow rapidly, supported by an extensive network of blood vessels connected to the brain.
It is most common in older adults, but can also occur in children and teens.
Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, double vision, and confusion or sudden change in mental clarity. More specific symptoms depend on the location of the tumor and the functions affected.
For example, a glioblastoma that occurs near the motor cortex — the part of the brain involved in movement — can cause loss of sensation on one side of the body.
Source: Brain cancer Australia cured
Doctors say trying to remove the growth would almost certainly cause irreparable damage to vital components that control abilities, such as speech and emotion that make him who he is.
On June 10, Lee is due to begin a combined treatment of chemotherapy and radiation, which doctors believe may be the best chance of slowing the growth of his tumor.
Tests to determine how far his cancer has progressed are still ongoing, but de Wolfes has been told it’s at least stage three, and probably stage four.
When glioblastoma has progressed to this level, patients gain a life expectancy of only 12 to 14 months.
Laura said she was humbled by her husband’s courage and strength.
“I’m so proud of the way he’s handling it all,” she said.
Laura said her husband (pictured with eldest son, Max) shows incredible courage
Lee has also amazed doctors by showing none of the degenerative symptoms typically associated with advanced glioblastoma, which commonly causes slurred speech and extensive memory loss.
“He’s still talking a mile a minute, the consultants are just entranced by him,” Laura said.
A crowdfunding campaign launched by Laura’s friend Amy has raised $36,540 at the time of writing.
Donations will help Laura and her sons Max, three, and Jack, one, stay afloat while Lee is treated.
Laura described her husband as “an incredibly positive person” and said he cherishes every day he spends with their family.