Waynesburg officer beating the odds

December 8, 2012
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McMillen Photography
Waynesburg Borough K9 Officer Brian Tennant has reason to smile after receiving news from his doctor that the inoperable brain tumor he was diagnosed with two years ago is now considered to be dead tissue and will eventually disappear completely. The Tennant family, from left, Brian holding son Reed, 6 months; Ross, 4; Jessica and Blake, 3.
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Bob Niedbala/Observer-Reporter
Waynesburg Borough K9 Officer Brian Tennant with K9 Officer Dagen Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – Two years ago the world of Waynesburg Borough police Officer Brian Tennant, 29, was sent into a downward spiral when what he believed were migraine headaches turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor.

“They basically told me, ‘You are going to die,’ and I wasn’t willing to accept it so I started looking for other options,” Tennant said.

He and his wife, Jessica, on the advice of their family physician, saw a neurologist in January 2010 at West Virginia’s Ruby Memorial Hospital. The initial diagnosis was exertion headaches. Tennant was prescribed medication and life went on normally for two more weeks. It was then that he and Jessica received the phone call that changed everything. They were to come back to Ruby for more tests.

The eventual diagnosis was Infiltrating Pontine Astrocytoma, a brain lesion that is seldom seen in adults. Brian was told he was living on borrowed time. His options were slim. A brain stem biopsy posed too many risks. Chemotherapy and radiation would prolong his life, not save it.

The Tennants scoured the Internet, desperately seeking another answer when they found the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. By March they were on a plane to Texas. At Ruby, Tennant was given a life expectancy of 5 to 10 years. In Texas the prognosis was even grimmer at 3 to 5 years.

That wasn’t acceptable to the couple whose sons were 2 and less than a year old at the time.

After being turned down for multiple clinical trials in the United States, they found a new cancer therapy being offered in Beijing, China, and made plans to uproot their lives in the U.S. Passports were secured, plane tickets were purchased, and then they received an unexpected call.

The Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas, that was among the places with clinical trials that turned them down, was now willing to accept Tennant after taking a second look. It was at the urging of family and friends that the Tennants had continued to pursue this option, and it had paid off.

The downside was that Tennant was going to get sicker before he would possibly get better.

He began a regimen of seven medications, taking two intravenously through a port every two weeks. The other five medications were in the form of more than 50 pills that he took daily. The cost was astronomical and the toll on Tennant was rapid, but in two months the tumor had shrunk by 20 percent.

Despite that good news, Tennant’s weight ballooned to over 400 pounds from necessary steroid treatments. He developed myopathy and had to walk with a cane.

“I could barely go up and down stairs and really had trouble standing. I was so full of fluid that I had fluid blisters on my legs. I said it was like what I thought being nine months pregnant all of the time would feel like,” he said. “Playtime with the boys was me sitting on the couch and they playing around me.”

Jessica once said she couldn’t wait for the story to be written that the tumor is all gone in big bold letters to show how loudly the couple was yelling it.

Two weeks ago Tennant went to his current doctor in Pittsburgh.

“He was dumbfounded at what he was seeing. He said I am a remarkable case. Seldom do they see these tumors stop growing, let alone shrinking. Mine continues to shrink and they think it is dead,” a healthy looking Tennant said. “He told me, ‘What we are seeing that is left in the scan is tissue and it is slowly eroding away.’”

The plan is for Tennant to return every three to four months just to keep an eye on things, but he is receiving no form of treatment at this time.

His weight is almost back to normal, there are no issues or lingering side effects, and Tennant is back to work full time with the Waynesburg Borough Police Department, currently as a K-9 officer.

The couple welcomed a third son, Reed, to the family in July, joining brothers, Ross, 4, and Blake, 3. Tennant said he will always be grateful to the friends, family and strangers who supported them through this ordeal.

“I don’t know if I will ever be able to say for sure one specific thing that worked. It was probably the Burzynski Clinic in Houston that did me the most good,” he said. “ I just had the attitude that I’m going to be the exception to the rule.”

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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