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posted: 3/31/2014 5:30 AM

The fight of his life: Libertyville man recovers from brain tumor

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  • John Volk

    John Volk

Submitted by Northwestern Medicine

John Volk, a newly married Libertyville man was diagnosed with an extremely rare brain tumor at the prime of his life.

It was back in 2004 when John Volk first noticed the double vision. While others would brush it off, Volk's sister died of a brain aneurysm so he went to see a doctor right away. Still, the diagnosis came as a shock -- pineal gland germinoma, an extremely rare and, in some cases, deadly tumor. He was 39 years old.

A pineal germinoma often strikes adolescents or young adults and is a type of germ cell tumor, originating from germ cells left over from embryonic development. One of the common locations for this tumor type is in the pineal region of the brain, which lies almost directly in the middle of the head.

Volk had surgery to remove the tumor three days after his diagnosis, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Later a shunt was inserted to help relieve fluid in Volk's brain.

Because of some complications having to do with the shunt in summer of 2013, Volk is still healing. Recovery hasn't always been easy and he struggles with some cognitive issues related to his short term memory.

Yet, despite it all, Volk calls himself lucky.

"I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world" said Volk, who is now 49. "My wife is my lifesaver, my champion and I have a lot to live for. She jokingly calls me her 'lemon.' We laugh a lot to get through this."

John doesn't know what the future will bring …. if his shunt will have more complications in the years to come. But he's still fighting the cancer and very much thriving thanks to great doctors and the support of his wife and 6-year-old son.

His doctor, Jeffrey Raizer, MD, said Volk is an inspiration to his patients and even himself.

"John never asked 'Why me?'" said Raizer, director of medical neuro-oncology at the Lurie Cancer Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital and co-director of the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute. "He simply decided to fight and to overcome whatever was around the bend. Today, John's prognosis is pretty good, and much of that is due to his positive attitude, his incredible family and commitment to get better a little bit each day."

This year, the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute (NBTI) is the official charity of the Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K on May 18. Sign up today to support the NBTI. You do not have to participate in the race to join or create a fundraising team.

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