Andrew and Ashley Tobin hold their children, Declan and Fiona, in this family photo taken Dec. 15, 2019.

Andrew and Ashley Tobin hold their children, Declan and Fiona, in this family photo taken Dec. 15, 2019.

Photo provided by Andrew Tobin

Device lets St. Clair Shores man live with brain cancer, be a father

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 19, 2020

 Andrew Tobin wears the Optune device while holding his then-2-month-old twins at his home March 10, 2019, in St. Clair Shores.

Andrew Tobin wears the Optune device while holding his then-2-month-old twins at his home March 10, 2019, in St. Clair Shores.

Photo provided by Andrew Tobin


ST. CLAIR SHORES — In the summer of 2017, Andrew Tobin began getting awful headaches.

They came on more and more often, and every night as he lay down to go to sleep he would get a terrible headache.

That August, Tobin, of St. Clair Shores, went to get checked out by an eye doctor. From there, he was referred to an opthamologist, but when she saw swelling and realized how nauseous Tobin had become, she sent him right to the emergency room.

On Sept. 2, just two months after his 30th birthday, Tobin had a craniotomy.

“I was lucky enough to have a surgeon that was aggressive during my craniotomy, resulting in a total gross resection of my tumor — that was roughly the size of a peach — on my right frontal lobe,” Tobin said. “(I) woke up without any neurological or physical deficits. I was up and walking just 24 hours after my surgery.”

Tobin received his pathology report and a diagnosis of a brain tumor in October and began seeing Dr. Tobias Walbert and Dr. Jim Snyder with Henry Ford Health System for his care.

While undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, Tobin stayed active, walking an average of 10 miles per day. After ending the treatment, however, he experienced three grand mal seizures and landed in the emergency room several times for kidney stones that are believed to have been brought on by the chemotherapy.

January 2018, however, brought a novel new therapy, the Optune tumor treatment field.

Tobin’s doctor, Walbert, was an investigator in the study of the device, which was approved in 2011 for use to treat malignant brain tumors that have regrown after first line treatment, and in 2015 for newly diagnosed glioblastoma and other brain tumors.

Snyder, one of eight neuro-oncologists in the state, explained that the Optune has four large bandages that are placed on the head, each with an electrode inside. The electrodes attach to wires running to a backpack or shoulder bag the patient carries. The device creates an electric field focused over the brain tumor that stops tumor cells when they try to divide. Cells have to line up in a specific manner to divide. The electric field disrupts that, Snyder said, so “they can’t grow and, essentially, the tumor cells die.”

Tobin keeps the device on nearly all the time.

“It can be difficult. It’s always on and gets in the way. It’s not fun sleeping with it every night,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said he’s grateful for the Optune.

“I don’t know exactly where I would be without it, so I kind of think of it as giving me a second chance,” he said.

Despite the fact that there was a “fair amount of skepticism” surrounding the device when it first began clinical trials, Snyder said the trials showed that patients who wore the device lived longer.

“One of the beauties of this device is it doesn’t have a large side effect profile,” Snyder said. “It’s cumbersome and it’s a little frustrating, and you have a little skin irritation from these sticky bandages, but beyond that, other side effects are quite rare.”

A month after receiving the Optune device, Tobin and his wife, Ashley, decided to begin to try to have children.

“I just always wanted to be a father. We had talked about it a while, right before surgery — it was eye-opening,” he said.

Because of the chemotherapy treatments and radiation, the couple had to use in-vitro fertilization to conceive. The first round, in February 2018, failed. They tried again in June.

On June 15, 2018, the couple found out they were pregnant, Tobin said. “On my birthday, July 2, we found out we were having twins.”

The Tobin family now includes Declan and Fiona, 18-month-old twins. Heading into his second Father’s Day, Tobin said that he just felt it was very important to him to be a father before anything else happened with his health.

The Optune device has kept his health stable.

“I still get headaches, but they’re not anything like they were, just normal,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

While he doesn’t want to have to wear the device forever, Tobin said it’s not clear what will happen once he stops.

“As aggressive as this brain cancer is, it’s treatable, and I’m just trying to stay positive.”

Snyder said the device represents an “innovative step forward for those faced with a brain tumor diagnosis.”

He said they haven’t yet discovered in clinical trials how long a patient can wear the device, but “I don’t think there’s a safety concern for wearing it for a longer period of time.”

It doesn’t make patients nauseous or affect blood counts like other treatments can.

“The other thing that’s cool about it is that the patients are in control,” Snyder said. “They decide when they’re wearing it if they want to wear it.

“Everyone is different and ... (on) their own journey. They’re defined only by their own experience.

“That’s something we really take to heart in the brain tumor community. The survival numbers are not great, but we do everything we can to change those numbers.”