Doggone Grateful: How a four-legged friend saved Lisa’s life

In April of 2012, Lisa Cunningham was home playing with her 10-month-old golden retriever, Bentley, when the puppy accidentally knocked her over. Bentley was a gentle dog, so Lisa was caught off guard when he bumped into her, causing her to tumble over and hit her head.

As a precaution, her doctor urged her to go to the emergency room, just to rule out a concussion. There, Lisa had a CT scan, expecting to receive a clean bill of health and be sent home. Instead, the ER doctor came into the room and closed the door behind him. He explained that Lisa’s scan showed a lime-sized mass in the right frontal lobe of her brain.

Lisa only recalls saying one thing as the weight of the information sunk in: “Is this real life?”

Lisa had surgery to remove the tumor in May, then completed radiation therapy and oral chemotherapy at a Massachusetts hospital. When she was later diagnosed with a reoccurrence—Lisa turned to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Dana-Farber provided Lisa with more treatment options, including the chance to take part in a clinical trial. While participating in the trial, another tumor was found in Lisa’s left temporal lobe. This time, the tumor had advanced to a glioblastoma (GBM), which is a Grade 4 tumor, characterized as extremely fast-growing and aggressive.  

Despite the challenging prognosis of a GBM tumor, Lisa maintains that Dana-Farber gives her hope. She is grateful to be living life four years after her diagnosis, and thanks her neuro-oncologist, Dr. David Reardon, who always remains positive and continuously assures her that she still has treatment options.

Today, Lisa is focused on doing things that make her happy and surrounding herself with people who are supportive, understanding, and accepting. She decided to pause active biotherapy treatment 18 months ago at the suggestion of Dr. Reardon, as the extended long-term use could cause additional health complications. Lisa continues to have an MRI every eight weeks to make sure her tumor stays stable and remains cautiously optimistic about her prognosis. 

“Worrying won’t change the outcome,” Lisa reminds herself.

Most of all, Lisa is grateful for Bentley. Her beloved pooch passed away from cancer two years ago, but Lisa firmly believes that she would not be here today without him. Her surgeon told her that if Lisa hadn’t found the mass on her brain when she did, it would have been too late to seek treatment.

Bentley is the inspiration behind Lisa’s Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk team, Team Hero Pup, which was Lisa’s nickname for her furry companion. Lisa walks to serve as living proof that while cancer doesn’t discriminate, there is hope at Dana-Farber.