Dealing with this medical condition has been a tremendous burden on O'Brien, his wife, Janice, and their three children. Their suffering has spanned a decade and more.
In 1991, O'Brien was first diagnosed with oligodendroglioma. The prognosis was not good, according to O'Brien's sister-in-law, Amy Hogan.
"At the time of the diagnosis, Desmond and his family were not given very much hope by mainstream, conventional doctors," Hogan recalled, in a letter of support for O'Brien. "They insisted he must do radiation and/or chemotherapy. Desmond and Janice did much re-search on these two options.
"They found out the side effects were very bad, side effects such as strokes, seizure, memory loss, and the list goes on. Quality of life is diminished and life expectancy with these treatments is very short. The only promise is that the tumor would definitely return within six months to two years."
O'Brien chose an alternative method involving nontoxic treatments with vitamins, supplements, and weekly IV infusions. He has been taking approximately 150 pills each day."
For 10 years, O'Brien has maintained a positive attitude. He has continued to maintain his status as a reliable service tech, specializing in servicing large centrifugal and screw machines.
"All of the guys look up to him," said Jeff Somers, News consultant and vice president of service operations for Monsen. "Desmond is one guy the others seek advice from."
Somers continued, "He has dealt with this disease without letting it affect his job performance. Desmond has always been a top technician. He is an area group leader. He is the kind of guy that every company would like to have ten of. He hasn't let this get to him. He even works overtime, much to the chagrin of his doctors. His excuse is that he is an HVAC technician and he has to take care of the clients. He even coaches a youth soccer team."
For 10 years, O'Brien's MRIs came back stable each time. The doctors were amazed, and they encouraged him to "keep doing what you are doing," according to Hogan. The doctors even wanted to know more about the nontoxic therapies.
In November 1999 there was a small increase in the size of the tumor. Due to medical advances since the tumor was first discovered, O'Brien, under the advice of several neurosurgeons, decided to proceed with an operation to remove the tumor. The surgery was performed in February of 2000, and the tumor seemed to have been successfully removed.
In July 2002 the tumor started coming back. This time it appeared to be more aggressive.
Janice continued to research treatments for this brain tumor and eventually contacted the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, which was founded by Stanislaw R. Burzynski, M.D., Ph.D.
Burzynski uses antineoplasms (tumor-fighting medication including amino acids and vitamin B2) in his treatment. (More information on this treatment and the Burzynski Clinic can be found at www.cancermed.com.)
O'Brien is currently at the clinic, where he is having a port/catheter surgically placed in his upper chest. IV treatment will be infused throughout each day. He will wear the catheter 24 hours a day, seven days a week for up to one year. If the treatment is successful, he will take oral medication designed to keep the cancer from coming back.
During the first year of treatment, the O'Briens will be traveling back and forth to Texas for checkups and evaluations. They left Nov. 29 for the initial surgery - with airline tickets purchased by Monsen - and plan to return "on the cusp of Christmas," according to Somers. Desmond and Janice left their children with Janice's grandparents and hope to reunite in time for the holidays.
Help From Family And FriendsO'Brien is on leave of absence for up to a year, depending on how well he responds to the treatment. "His job is ready for him when he comes back," Somers said.
But the expense of the treatment is a heavy burden to bear. That is why Monsen set up the O'Brien Fund/Charity House Foundation to help pay for the treatment, which can cost up to $100,000 for the first year alone. The Monsen employees agreed to forego the company's traditional toys for children program this year and donate the proceeds to the O'Brien Fund.
"We consider everyone family here, and we decided to help one of our own family this year," said Somers.
In her appeal to friends and families of Monsen employees, Hogan added these comments.
"The FDA has now approved Dr. Burzynski to run clinical trials with antineoplasms. Desmond has been approved and accepted into his clinical trial.
"Things have never looked more promising and hopeful for Desmond and his family. They are now embarking on the fight of their lives. This will be a terrible burden to them and their three children, physically, emotionally and financially.
"Desmond and Janice are blessed with very loving and supportive families. I am reaching out to you for your help so they can achieve their goal, to become cancer-free. They dream to have a normal, happy, and healthy life with their three children."
There is no way of knowing what the prognosis is for a complete recovery, but those close to O'Brien point to the excellent success rate of the Burzynski Clinic as a ray of hope.
"Desmond has never told us that he couldn't do something or blamed his brain cancer for anything," Somers said.
It sounds to me that Desmond O'Brien and his family have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, as do his fellow employees at Monsen Engineering, the company he has worked for since January 1982.
Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to: O'Brien Fund/Charity House Foundation, 2648 River Rd., Manasquan, NJ 08736.
John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 12/22/2003