Western Reserve Academy student looks raise funds for brain tumor research

Senior survived thanks to concussion revealing mass in head

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Peninsula -- In 2012, Joe Blanda's life was changed after he suffered a concussion during a soccer game.

Joe, now 18, was then a sophomore and a member of the Western Reserve Academy boy's soccer team. He was playing in the final game of the season when he jumped up for a "headball."

Joe's head collided with the head of another player, giving them both concussions.

"I really don't remember much," Joe said of the hit.

What he does remember is the routine CT scan in the emergency room found a mass in his brain which was laster diagnosed as glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.

The hit saved Joe's life.

In order to try to help others, Joe and his family, including his dad Joseph, mom Michelle, and twin sisters Rachel and Jennifer, have founded Blast Glioblastoma, a non-profit organization which is sponsoring two fundraising events in May.

A dinner and auction is May 3 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Fairlawn Country Club, 200 N. Wheaton Road, in Akron. A 5K run and fun walk is May 4 at Western Reserve Academy.

The foundation is also planning a variety of events later this year, including a golf outing.

"My son Joe initiated it [Blast Glioblastoma] when he saw the need for more research since the disease has a bad prognosis and there are not many good treatments," said Dr. Joseph Blanda, Joe's dad.

Blanda called his son's prognosis "not good."

"But it's been 18 months and he is doing amazingly well," Blanda said. "The good news for him is, if you survive 18 months without a recurrence, usually that puts you in a unique category where your long-term survival is better."

Joe knows his cancer can come back "any day."

"Any day I could go in there and my MRI could not be clean," Joe said. "And that's not good."

However, each scan has been clean and Joe intends to run track in college.

According to Blanda, brain cancer research does not get the same amount of attention and funding as other forms, even though 10,000 people in Northeast Ohio have been diagnosed with brain tumors.

Blanda said the family views Joe's concussion as a blessing. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic said the tumor was "very large" and any day could have herniated Joe's brain stem and killed him.

"It was that big," Blanda said. "Brain cancer is insidious. It just sneaks up on you."

Joe had no idea he had a tumor.

"I tried my best to ignore it," Joe said. "I still didn't really have a clue. I was thinking that it must be a benign tumor and it's going to be fine."

Joe expected to have surgery and return to soccer practice and "be fine with nothing to worry about," Joe said.

A day later he was scheduled for surgery.

After the day-long surgery, Joe felt he had beaten the disease.

When his parents and doctor met with Joe to explain his condition, he knew it was serious.

"That knocked me down, then and there," he said.

The good news was the entire tumor was removed, Joe said. There was no sign of any growth left.

"I was so lucky getting 100 percent removal," Joe said. "A lot of brain tumor patients don't get that."

Joe continued his treatments, but began to feel bad for those who were not as fortunate as he was.

He was placed into a research study along with 21 other patients from across the country. However, the study was cancelled due to a lack of funding.

After the cancellation, Joe asked his parents to organize a foundation to help raise money for brain cancer research, according to Blanda. All money raised by the foundation goes directly to research, he added.

"There are so many good research possibilities that just need funding," Joe said. "And they already have the people who are willing to do it. All they need is the funding and there would be so many more options."

Brain tumor research is "not as big as it should be," Joe said.

"It is one of the top leading causes on death in youth today," Joe said. "I think that it is very underrated and needs a whole lot more attention."

Joe hopes his foundation can help raise both awareness and funds for research.

"I just think that people need to know any amount of help, will help this cause," Joe said. "Any amount of money. Any amount of time. Anything you have to offer would help."

For more information and to sign up for the May 4 5K, visit www.blastgbm.com.

"We must make it easier for the next kid who has to face this beast," Joe said. "It takes more than hope. It is up to us to raise money and make a difference."

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC

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