First there were headaches. Bad ones. Migraines, probably. Then, one day in mid-May, 2010, his knee, foot and arm went numb on his left side. Darrell “Doc” Rodgers, the 700WLW radio personality, feared he was having a stroke.
In the emergency room, doctors ordered a CT scan to zero in on what was happening in Doc’s brain. Instead of a blockage that was causing a stroke, they found a brain tumor the size of a quarter. Further tests revealed that the tumor was metastatic. It had not originated in the brain, but had developed
from cancer cells that had migrated there from another part of his body. The news was grim: Doc had Stage 4, non-small-cell lung cancer.
It was a diagnosis at once painful and difficult to fathom for the married father of two.
“I don’t smoke. I don’t drink,” Doc told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I eat more salads than I do red meat.”
A former minor league baseball player, Doc was also active beyond the norm, having worked regularly as a basketball referee, running up and down the court officiating high- energy teens.
Looking at reality and statistics with unflinching courage, Doc prepared himself – and his radio listeners– for the worst. On Father’s Day of 2010, the talk show host told listeners of WLW’s “Extra Innings” that he had terminal cancer, that his odds of surviving a year were one in three, and that his broadcasting future was uncertain. He choked up.
And then, amidst the gloom, the sun peaked out. A two-week course of radiation treatments at the Precision Radiotherapy Center in West Chester, Ohio, eradicated the brain tumor. “And if it comes back,” Doc told the Enquirer, “they’ll zap it some more.”
Doc’s treatments were directed by John Breneman, MD, a radiation oncologist at the Precision Radiotherapy Center and the Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute.
A metastatic brain tumor is the most common type of adult brain tumor, with 170,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Brain metastasis occurs in 15 to 30 percent of patients with cancer.
Stereotactic radiosurgery involves the destruction of cancerous tissue with precisely targeted beams of radiation. While the beams destroy tumor cells, surrounding healthy tissue is preserved.
“We have become adept at controlling the brain disease in patients whose cancer has metastasized,” Dr. Breneman said.
Dr. Breneman and other members of the UC Brain Tumor Center team have pioneered “frameless” radiosurgery, which allows the patient to be fitted with a fabricated, noninvasive mask. The mask eliminates the need to immobilize the patient with a stereotactic head frame that is attached to the skull with pins.
Meanwhile, chemotherapy put the brakes on the cancer in Doc’s lungs. Within three months, he was back on the basketball court.
His oncologist, Tahir Latif, MD, of UC Physicians, told the Enquirer that Doc handled his rigorous course of chemotherapy as if it were “a walk in the park.”
His resilience, doctors say, was aided by his long-term commitment to healthy living. If disease does strike, the healthier and fitter one is the better.
Doc has not conquered cancer, of course. Rather, he has entered a period of co-existence with his disease. When another brain tumor was spotted on a routine scan in March 2011, Doc began another course of treatment under Dr. Breneman’s care at Precision Radiotherapy Center.
“Doc will continue to undergo routine checks,” noted Ronald Warnick, MD, Medical Director of the UC
Brain Tumor Center. “If we see something new, we’ll address it, which is what we’re doing right now. Our goal is to keep any brain metastases under control so that Doc can continue working and enjoying his family and his life.”