New York City man's story of survival for Glioblastoma Awareness Day

Bill Ritter Image
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
EMBED <>More Videos

It is the word that throws fear into more than 13,000 Americans every year, glioblastoma. It is the deadliest of brain cancers. Bill Ritter has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- It is the word that throws fear into more than 13,000 Americans every year: glioblastoma.

It is the deadliest of brain cancers.

Wednesday is Glioblastoma Awareness Day, and for us at Eyewitness News, it's personal.

Our News Director Rehan Aslam died from glioblastoma 11 days ago.

To honor how Rehan lived his life, always curious and always searching for information, we are again doing a story about this kind of brain tumor.

Life expectancy after diagnosis varies, but not by much. Generally, it is from eight to 14 months.

But we look at one man from New York City who appears to be, at least for now, on a different time schedule.

By going public, he and his family and his remarkable doctor hope to inspire others.

READ MORE | Glioblastoma Day: Raising awareness for rare and deadly brain cancer

Michael Anderson was healthy and strong a couple of years ago with a family he loved, and they loved him back.

He is a former New York cop and former investigator for Homeland Security.

Then, just like that, he had a challenge far bigger than any of his jobs.

Michael's left side was paralyzed and his life was disoriented in December 2020.

Doctors had found a cancerous tumor, and Michael's was the most vicious and deadliest kind, glioblastoma.

"The first couple of doctors who saw me said I would probably be lucky to make it six weeks," he said.

His wife, Mary Anderson, recalled the feelings after that initial diagnosis.

"It was looking very bleak," she said. "Yes, in bad shape. And then the surgery was a game changer, once he got the surgery."

That's when they found Dr. Isabell Germano, a neurosurgeon with Mount Sinai Hospital who specializes in brain tumors.

"He came in, in a pretty bad, pretty bad situation," she said. "He was really not able to move, and he was not able to think properly. So he was not feeling well, and he knew that."

It was Dr. Germano who urged Michael to get the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation and fight this cancer -- and fight it hard.

"The surgery that I performed was an aggressive surgery, yet a surgery that did not take away quality of life," she said. "I prefer to leave the patient better than when it goes into surgery. That's my goal. That being said, I'm also very aggressive with my resection. So it's a very fine balance to walk."

Without the surgery, Michael would likely be dead already. But he is very much alive, and bucking the odds.

It can be a painful time, which makes Michael's journey one of the rare ones.

By 2022, most people would have succumbed to this tumor. He is still vibrant and alive, doing all the things you would hope. But the question remains, how much longer can he stay like this?

"Well, hopefully forever," Dr. Germano said.

Those odds linger, though.

"It's not easy, it really isn't easy," Dr. Germano said. "I think that for me, the reason why I'm able to do this for, I've been able to do it for over 20 years, is because I really feel a strong relationship with my patients and my family. I cannot change their fate, but I can help them walking the walk and walking through this incredible fight that they need to go through."

Michael is of course not out of the woods.

"(I'm scared) all the time," he said. "When I wake up in the middle of the night and it's dark and I'm alone, I want to get back to where I could walk without a cane."

He also has a message for those battling cancer.

"Do not ever give up," he said. "Keep on fighting. Keep on researching, looking for the right people."