Looking for hope in all the right places

Diane Taglioli-Hura, a public health researcher for Henry Ford, had been feeling a little unsteady for a couple weeks. While in the cafeteria, a wave of dizziness washed over her, and she fell. The next day, Henry Ford surgeons removed a golf-ball sized tumor from her brain, and she would find a highly experienced medical team that offered her hope.

In the eight months before her emergency surgery, Diane had been feeling great – except for a “tiny” cough that sent her to the doctor twice. As a singer for 28 years in the Dearborn Big Band, she needed a strong voice. And she needed strong lungs to play her flute in the Redford Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan Flute Orchestra. But something was wrong.

Analysis of Diane’s brain tumor showed she had stage 4 cancer – it started in her lungs and metastasized to the brain. The news was terrifying. Her dad died of glioblastoma, her uncle died of lung cancer, her sister had lung cancer, and her husband survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I was assigned to a brilliant but quiet oncologist,” says Diane, who began six treatments of chemotherapy. “You have to trust people you don’t know. It’s almost like someone takes you into the woods, blindfolds you, and tell you to run – but you might hit a tree.”

Meanwhile, Henry Ford pathologists repeatedly tried to isolate the DNA and RNA in her tumor, hoping to find a cancer biomarker. Pathologists stayed persistent and eventually isolated her tumor’s DNA and RNU, and they identified the ALK biomarker causing cancer growth.

During lung radiation therapy, Diane found a Facebook support group for patients with ALK-positive cancer. “We were all paddling in the same canoe,” says Diane. “We all had hope in one way or another.”

Facebook conversations were swirling about a well-known ALK researcher who treated patients with targeted therapy. He had just moved to the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. Guided by her mom’s advice – always find the expert – Diane made an appointment with a new oncologist, Shirish Gadgeel, chief of Hematology and Oncology.  

“Dr. Gadgeel explained that there were all kinds of new treatments. I felt like I had someone leading me, and I could understand what he was saying. He was the kindest person, and I felt like I had all the hope in the world,” says Diane, 57.

“In some lung cancer patients, we can identify the most important gene mutation that drives the cancer,” says Dr. Gadgeel. “Then we can treat the patient with a pill that targets and blocks the protein created by the abnormal gene which is driving the cancer. This targeted treatment can shrink the cancer and control it for a long time. In Ms. Hura’s case, tests found the primary driver of her cancer is the ALK gene mutation, which produces an ALK protein. The protein can be blocked by Alectinb, the ALK inhibitor drug. She has been receiving Alectinb since July 2020.”

Says Diane, “When you have a doctor who you feel good about, it lessens your anxiety. You know that they know what they’re doing. Dr. Gadgeel has all the facets covered – bedside manner, research, and academic knowledge.”

But anxiety surfaced again when radiation treatments caused inflammation to lung tissue, requiring oxygen usage for nearly four months. Also, periodic scans and imaging provoke worries. A recent brain scan showed a possible growth, but laser ablation resolved the problem and identified the growth as necrosis, not cancer.

To alleviate scan anxiety, Diane relaxes by a lake and practices guided meditation. Sitting next to her husband in their Dearborn Heights home with high windows that radiate light, Diane says, “I’m building on my faith and what I was taught in Catholic school.” For weekly camaraderie, Diane volunteers to sew burial clothes for newborns who don’t make it out of the hospital.

“At Henry Ford, I have an excellent team of doctors,” says Diane. In addition to Dr. Gadgeel, her team includes Donald Seyfried, M.D. who performed emergency brain surgery; Mira Shah, M.D. for brain radiation; Munther Ajlouni, M.D. for lung radiation; and Ian Lee, M.D. who performed laser ablation.

Her advice to patients: Do your research. Ask your doctor about targeted therapies for cancer biomarkers. “You can’t walk into your local hospital down the road and expect them to know how to treat you. You have to know which hospitals are on the brink of treatment and which ones have the right equipment.”

Diane’s goals? Help people, educate other patients, and have a long life with her husband, three adult kids, and her grandkids. “I don’t want them to meet me through a picture. I want them to know me.”

Diane was so impressed with the care received from Dr. Gadgeel that she submitted him as a cancer hero in CURE magazine. Read her submission piece.
Minimally Invasive Laser Ablation

The tumor deep in Tom’s brain was destroyed using heat from a laser. Laser therapy can reach previously inoperable tumors.

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Diane’s cancer spread to the brain from her lungs.

Henry Ford experts in lung cancer and brain tumor treatment teamed up to provide Diane with a personalized treatment plan.

Learn more about metastatic brain cancer

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