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Brian Gutzwiller – Brain Cancer Patient Story

Image of Brian.

In May 2023, 44-year-old Brian Gutzwiller experienced ringing in his ears and “audio hallucinations” where he would hear music, but music wasn’t actually playing. He went to the UPMC Primary Care Walk-in Center in Altoona to get his symptoms checked out. The care team ran bloodwork and ordered a brain scan to be done at a nearby facility. The results showed Brian had a cancer mass in his brain. He then needed to be taken by ambulance to the UPMC Altoona Emergency Department and was taken by helicopter to UPMC Shadyside.

There, Pascal Olivier Zinn, MD, PhD, who specializes in neurosurgical oncology at UPMC, surgically removed the cancer mass from Brian’s head. He recovered in the hospital for a week and was referred to Jan Drappatz, MD, a neuro-oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, who diagnosed Brian with a rare and aggressive cancer called primary central nervous system lymphoma.

Dr. Drappatz asked if Brian wanted to participate in a clinical trial – to which he agreed. Through the trial, he received IV chemo along with an experimental drug daily, meets with Dr. Drappatz monthly, and gets an MRI done every other month.

Innovative Brain Cancer Treatment

For six months, Brian received IV chemo each week in Shadyside and during this time, he didn’t work at his job where he’s a geographer specializing in aerial photography and remote sensing for a Pittsburgh-based company. However, during treatment, he turned his beekeeping hobby into a small business, selling pure, raw honey.

“I wanted to keep my mind occupied. What really helped me during treatment is that I never sat around. I would walk around, and I always tried to keep moving. My experience was pretty traumatic, but you have to be willing to work and power through it,” says Brian who thanked the staff for his care by bringing in a case of honey for them at his final treatment.

Brian adds that Carolyn, clinical research coordinator at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, helps him stay organized and makes sure he has all of his appointments lined up.

“She is accommodating – she and Dr. Drappatz gave me their cell phone numbers in case I have any questions or need anything, which is convenient. That means a lot,” he says.

Brian recently thanked his care team for helping him get back to work, which requires travel to cities like Detroit and Philadelphia.

“Everyone from Dr. Drappatz’s office and the staff, especially from the fifth floor, I can’t thank them enough. I couldn’t have asked for better care,” says Brian. “Dr. Drappatz and Dr. Zinn were very thorough, and they always took the time to visit me and to make sure everything was going right. They never rushed through anything.”