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St. Lucie County glioblastoma: Fundraiser aims to support mission to find answers, help families

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 17:56:07-04

If you’ve never heard of glioblastoma, there are growing efforts to change that.

It’s an aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer that dozens of St. Lucie County families have battled in recent years.

Next week, July 21 will be recognized as glioblastoma awareness day by a resolution passed by U.S Congressman Brian Mast.

A fundraiser being held Thursday night aims to make life a little easier for local families.

Stephanie Ankiel Cunningham founded the B.R.A.I.N Cancer Foundation of the Treasure Coast, Bringing Resources And Information Now. It aims to support families, but also collect local data for research.

“We were able to get our new patient a shower chair, a bathroom chair, and recently we just paid for another family’s utility bill,” Cunningham said.

She lost her husband, Mark Cunningham, to glioblastoma in 2019 after a more than 6-year battle.

“It’s horrible the stuff they have to go through,” Cunningham said. “This is not a black or white cancer. This is a gray cancer and there are so many ups and downs”

WPTV started looking into local glioblastoma cases and concerns back in 2018, first telling Cunningham’s story along with about six other families.

After the first story, dozens of additional families reached out to WPTV for months, even grabbing the attention of the health department.

“I don’t have faith in that anymore. I feel like it’s either we do it ourselves or it’s not going to get done,” Cunningham said.

Health officials say it could be population growth leading to the growing number of cases. They recorded 81 cases in St. Lucie County between 2014 and 2018.

That is still not enough of an occurrence to warrant a deeper investigation into local families’ concerns, such as multiple cases on the same street and within a few blocks, or those far younger than the average diagnosis age of 65 years old. One patient passed away this year before his 21st birthday.

Cunningham wants to keep pushing for local, but costly, local testing.

She’s also taking information on a self-report database on her non-profit’s website, https://www.braincancertc.org.

She says she has already noticed one local change.

“I think hospitals now are actually doing CT scans, they don’t bypass it anymore like they used to. I think people are definitely more aware.”

She’s hopeful to raise at least $10,000 in her first annual fundraiser.

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