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35-Year-Old With "Terminator" Brain Tumor Only Had One Symptom

John Shadock underwent two brain surgeries after his diagnosis.

Just hearing the words "brain tumor" is enough to scare anyone. It's even more troubling to learn that they don't always cause symptoms—and when they do arise, it's often not until tumors are large enough to interfere with the brain's healthy tissue, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. However, 35-year-old John Shadock did experience one symptom that prompted him to seek medical attention.

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Speaking with, John and his wife, Ali Shadock, shared details about their experience and John's eventual diagnosis. While he was otherwise perfectly healthy, John began experiencing headaches in the spring of 2019.

"I thought they were migraines," John, who is now 41, told

"In the middle of the night, he'd be like, 'Can you get me an ice pack?' and I'd put an ice pack on his head. … We thought, this isn't right. We have to go to the doctor," Ali added.

After a visit to their primary care provider and later scans at an imaging center in Kansas City, Missouri, the couple received the news that John had a brain tumor.

John underwent brain surgery just five days later, with a biopsy revealing that his tumor was a glioblastoma. According to a 2000 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), this type of cancer is so severe that it's otherwise known as "the terminator."

John was initially told that he would have just six months to a year to live, as the average life expectancy with glioblastoma is only eight months. Five years later, however, John is thankfully well past that average, reported.

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"His survival is pretty extraordinary," Peter Forsyth, MD, chairman of the neuro-oncology program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, told John is currently being treated at the facility.

Forsyth continued, "There's something special about him or his brain or his tumor. … John shows what's possible. That's very, very important, uplifting."

John only reported headaches, which are among the most common symptoms. However, glioblastomas can also cause nausea and vomiting, confusion or decline in brain function, memory loss, personality changes, seizures, altered sense of touch, and speech difficulties, among other symptoms, according to Mayo Clinic.

Risk factors include age (glioblastomas can occur at any age but are most often found in older adults), radiation exposure, and inherited syndromes that increase cancer risk.

According to Mayo Clinic, the tumor occurs when "cells in the brain or spinal cord develop changes in their DNA," which are sometimes called mutations or variations. The DNA then tells cancer cells to multiply faster, leading to too many cells and the formation of a tumor. But even with this knowledge, researchers have yet to find anything you can do to prevent glioblastoma or what causes these DNA changes.

Currently, there is no cure for glioblastoma. Treatment often begins with surgery to move the tumor, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy, per Mayo Clinic. These treatments can help slow tumor growth and reduce symptoms.

For John, two brain surgeries and clinical trials have proven helpful. He enrolled in two clinical trials that involved immunotherapy approaches, and his immune system is actively fighting the cancer, Forsyth told

We offer the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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