Three widows raise awareness of glioblastoma

'It’s imperative that we bring awareness to patients and families out there'

Liz Braun 4 minute read December 13, 2021

James Morton was puttering around the house and had just put up a shelf in the bedroom when he complained of terrible pain in one eye.

Paul Hood had been out for a morning run before he began to experience left-side weakness.

Gord Somerville was outside playing with a new puppy when a sudden, intense headache made him sick.

Within hours, all three of these men — each athletic and healthy — were diagnosed with glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that killed the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie in 2017.

And within about 15 months, all three men were dead.

Their devastated widows have joined forces to raise awareness of glioblastoma and to raise money for research into this cancer.

Sue Morton, Lyndsay Porter-Hood and Cindy Somerville are friends and members of a club they hope nobody else ever has to join.

The toll glioblastoma takes on patients and their families is horrific, and the women are determined to make change.

They’re fundraising for Sunnybrook Hospital’s Gord Downie Fund For Brain Cancer Research.

On Dec. 28, the women are hosting Skate For A Cure at the Campus Ice Centre on Simcoe St. North in Oshawa.

The afternoon includes Stick and Puck for hockey enthusiasts at 3 p.m. and an hour of public skating afterward.

Admission is pay-what-you-can, and your donation goes to the Gord Downie Fund.

There’s also a Skate For A Cure GoFundMe where you can contribute.

Glioblastoma, or GBM, is a cancer that affects 1500 Canadian adults (and 150 children) every year. The average survival rate is about 14 months.

Far less is known about glioblastoma than other cancers, but it seems to be increasing in the population.

Why remains a mystery, but the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) lists such possible contributing factors as an increase in diagnosis (thanks to easier access to neuroimaging), an aging population, ionizing radiation, radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) and air pollution, among others.

Sue Morton is still grieving the September passing of her husband James, who chose death by medical assistance.

His journey with glioblastoma was complicated by a massive stroke as he was recovering from the cancer surgery, and after months in the hospital, he came home needing total physical care.

His care was complicated by the pandemic and the consequent state of in-home health care, so Sue left her job to be his full-time caregiver.

James was then 47 years old and had been otherwise completely healthy; he was a detective with York Regional Police.

Sue Morton’s mantra is “Let love lead,” and it sustained her through her husband’s hellish ordeal.

Having a stroke meant he had to endure what she calls, “the worst of the worst of what can happen,” with glioblastoma.

Having helped fulfill James’ wish to die with dignity, Morton now works as an advocate with Bridge C-14, a support group for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

Morton said she is sifting through everything that happened and working to help raise awareness of the disease.

“And I don’t like to use the word positive, but I want to make something meaningful out of everything he went through,” she said.

A lot of people don’t even know what glioblastoma is, added Morton, “so one of the things I did was get my license plates changed to read, ‘Cure GBM.’

“Now people stop me in the grocery store to ask me about that, and I welcome the chance to help educate people. It’s the most aggressive, most deadly cancer, with the most terrible consequences that affect language and mobility.

“It’s imperative that we bring awareness to patients and families out there.”

Morton thinks there should be regular, routine screening for brain tumours and cancers the same way there is for breast or colon cancer.

“All our husbands were healthy, with no pre-existing conditions. My husband was perfectly fine one minute, and within half an hour I was told he had a brain tumour the size of a peach,” she said.

Morton said she and the other widows, “Are all just trying to navigate grief the best way we can. Your grief with glioblastoma begins with diagnosis.

“There is no cure and you know their lives will be short. And then you see them change before your eyes and everything in your life is affected.

“We have to bring more awareness. And we have to push for more research.”

All three widows went through comparable journeys of being caregivers and now they are telling their stories to bring awareness.

“I promised my husband: ‘I will not waste our tragedy.’ I couldn’t do much while I was caring for him, but I can now,” Morton said.


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