Sisters help mom battle brain cancer

Each year, 220,000 Americans are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Treatment options are limited and life expectancy is only one to two years.

Still, Bellevue-resident Gina Weigum stays optimistic about her mother's health.

Her mother, Teresa Lafreniere was diagnosed with Glioblistoma Multiforme, an aggressive type of brain cancer, in December 2007.

Following her husband's death in a car accident, Lafreniere wanted to spend more time with her family. She retired after 42 years at Western Washington University as an Assistant to the Dean and moved into a home across the street from her daughter.

On the morning December 13, 2007, Weigum looked across the street and noticed her mother's house was dark. Knowing her mother usually woke early, she walked over to check on her. She discovered her mother had fallen and was experiencing paralyses on the right side of her face. At the hospital, Lafreneire was given a CAT Scan.

Doctor's first assumed she had a stroke.

“I'm not sure why, but at that point, I knew it was more than a stroke,” Weigum recalled. “I had a bad feeling and I remember telling my husband I think it's a tumor.”

Up until this point, Weigum's mother was the picture of health. She was 64 and had no notable symptoms.

“It came out of no where,” Weigum said.

The doctors were adamant about operating on her mother the very next day. Weigum and her sister, Diana Lafreniere, were hesitant about the surgery and decided to research the top brain surgeons in the Seattle area. They found Dr. Greg Foltz of the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.

“I called his office on Thursday afternoon and by Friday, we had an appointment lined up,” Weigum said. “We drove down to meet him. He admitted my mom to Swedish Hospital, but not until he insisted my sister, mother, and I go out to our favorite restaurant first. He is so dedicated and devoted to his patients and finding a cure for brain cancer,” she added.

Since her mother's first surgery, which removed several tumors, more have grown back and have caused ongoing complications.

“What's amazing about my mother is that through all of this she has remained a rock,” Weigum said. “She is the most positive, outgoing, friendly, and caring person I have ever met. She's my mother.”

Along with hundreds of others, Weigum has taken on the fight against the terminal disease. On May 30, Weigum and her team will participate in the second annual Seattle Brain Cancer Walk with proceeds benefiting the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment (CABTT) at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.

The CABTT is the first multidisciplinary treatment and research center in the Pacific Northwest dedicated solely to the treatment of brain tumors. The out-patient clinic provides instant access to promising new therapies, offering hope for patients with all stages of brain tumors, including brain cancer.

In its inaugural year, the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk raised $120,000 for CABTT. Every dollar raised through the walk supports CABTT’s commitment to brain cancer research and patient care.

Weigum, her sister and others on Team Teresa already have raised $2,685. Their goal is to raise $5,000 for the fight. Donations can be made at https://community.swedish.org/teresalafreniere.

“The best part is that my mother loves life so much she sometimes forgets she has cancer,” Weigum said, smiling. “Her positive outlook helps keep her healthy and going strong.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at 425.453.4602.

The Swedish Neuroscience Institute CABTT is located at 550 17th Avenue, Seattle, 206-320-4144.