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Thomas Donely — Brain Cancer Story

Thomas Donely brain cancer survivor.

At the age of 40, Thomas Donely thought his life would look different. Currently recovering from his second brain surgery and battling a second round of brain cancer, Thomas is the definition of a fighter.

In 2013, when he was 32 years old, Thomas had a seizure, something he had never experienced before. Living in Atlanta, GA at the time, he went to the doctor and they determined the tumor located on his brain was cancer. After surgery, chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and physical therapy to learn how to walk, dress himself and get his strength back, Thomas was in remission.

Unfortunately, in 2020, Thomas started experiencing seizures again, and tests revealed his tumor was growing back. This time, he was living in Pittsburgh, and was referred to Jan Drappatz, MD, neuro-oncologist and associate director of the Adult Neuro-Oncology Program at UPMC. Hesitant to have surgery again, and with direction from Dr Drappatz, Thomas chose to go through chemotherapy for a second time. In February, Thomas underwent a second brain surgery and additional radiation.

Although it has been tough, Thomas credits his family for their unwavering support, whether it’s through words of encouragement or traveling to Pittsburgh to be with him for treatment. “They’re always there telling me to keep fighting,” he said. “Anytime I felt like giving up, they wouldn’t let me.”

His mother, Linda, has particularly had an important role in his journey. A resident of Miami, Florida, Linda traveled to Pittsburgh for six months to be present for her son’s surgery and treatment at UPMC. She still makes frequent trips to visit and support him in recovery, and is in awe of his strength. “Even though he had this diagnosis, he looks on the positive side,” Linda said. “There are challenges for him, but he attacks it. He doesn’t stay down for long.”

Today, Thomas enjoys time with his family as much as he can, enjoying and creating music. He is currently going to physical therapy and is learning how to walk again. “Every day is a struggle, but I keep on pushing,” he said.

Thomas' treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.