I would like to thank you for visiting the Sperling's CaringBridge page. I have been given permission to share their story with all of you in hopes that it will gain more support for their family while navigating through this very difficult time in their lives.
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I share with you Adam’s ongoing battle with grade 4 Glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer). With little to no public outreach for help, they have bravely confronted this devastating news mostly on their own, but our family’s hope is that they will witness the outpouring of support that so many of you have to offer during this time.
I detail their story below…
The Beginning - May 2018
This day started like any other day would for Adam, Annie and their two children (ages 3 and 7), until they were faced with some devastating news. For the past couple of years, Adam had complained of horrible headaches. These headaches would come and go throughout the day and would often linger until the next dose of Excedrin would finally kick in. For months they believed these headaches to be stress-induced, but Adam’s pain persisted, becoming even more disruptive and more frequent over time. This is when Annie & Adam felt it was important to schedule an appointment to meet with his doctor.
Without hesitation, Adam’s doctor sent him for an MRI. It was that same afternoon that Annie received a call from Adam with the news that would break us all. Adam had a baseball-sized mass in the right frontal lobe of his brain. The location of the mass had been putting severe pressure on the cerebral hemisphere, putting him at an increased risk for seizures and even worse—an aneurysm.
Adam was immediately escorted to the nearest emergency room where he met with the neurology team on staff. Following a thorough assessment of his recent MRI, the team of doctors quickly determined that an emergency brain surgery was necessary. It was now time for Adam and Annie to map out their next step in the process. So, with help from family, Adam and Annie were referred to one of the top doctors in the country over at NYU—Dr. John Golfinos. Surgery was scheduled for May 9th. It would take 4-5 hours to operate on and would eventually reveal itself as a grade 4 astrocytoma.
While we were all relieved to know that Dr. Golfinos had successfully resected the tumor, we also knew that our journey was only beginning. And although the tumor was encapsulated within a cystic mass and located in a fairly forgiving location of the brain, further research would determine that a grade 4 astrocytoma is known to be one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer and that the tumor would eventually regenerate itself, causing us more concern and more worry in the weeks and months to come.
Despite this devastating diagnosis, Adam and Annie and their children never let this disease get the best of them. As some of you may know, they had already faced the worst possible nightmare two parents could ever experience—the death of their son Wesley—so they weren’t going to allow this life-altering news change the way they would live their lives.
It is true that very few family and friends would learn of their situation. Adam and Annie rarely took anybody up on their offers for help. They just didn’t want to burden people with their story, but to their family and friends, they were far from a burden.
A few weeks following Adam's initial surgery, he started to feel normal again. He would wake up free from headaches, no longer having to rely on medication to control his pain and was slowly regaining his strength. In July of 2018, Adam began the first of six rounds of radiation and then concluded successfully with a momentous ringing of the bell in October that same year. Never in our wildest dreams would a bell sound so sweet and mean so much, but this fight was far from over... Adam would then go on to several months’ worth of PCV Chemotherapy (Procarbazine, Lomustine (also called CCNU) and Vincristine) and multiple weekly doctor’s visits—eventually taking a toll on his mind and body.
During this lengthy treatment regimen, Adam and Annie continued to work full-time, reporting to their New York City and North Jersey offices every day, all while spending quality time with their two children and maintaining their home in Glen Ridge, NJ they had always dreamed of living in. More so now than ever, Annie was forced to take charge of so much more than the average person could handle. If there were ever a real Super Woman—IT WOULD BE MY SISTER!! Keeping up to date on the latest research, scheduling and attending appts alongside Adam, shuffling between hockey, baseball, and golf practice, celebrating birthday parties and enjoying the occasional school music concert; Annie was easily carrying the weight of the world. While Annie dealt with the ebbs and flows of Adam's diagnosis and as Adam dealt with the first-hand mental and physical strains of the disease, they both knew they had to continue to live their lives just as they had intended. And so that summer, Adam, Annie, and their children would go on to enjoy their annual vacation on Nantucket, welcome a new member into the family—a sweet Bernedoodle named Max and find the strength to witness their nieces Bat Mitzvah, half-way across the world in Israel.
The Start of a New Year:
Having had great success following that initial surgery, our families were overjoyed to see Adam continue to improve both mentally and physically, with nothing but a scar to show for! It was also the start of a new year—the year that Adam would begin his 6-9 months’ worth of PCV chemotherapy—only to be forced to call it quits several rounds in. The PCV treatment was taking a toll on Adam’s platelet levels and as a result, he was never able to complete a full round of treatment. In April 2019, we had finally put an end to chemotherapy. This would soon lead us down the path to alternate treatment options.
Just a couple of days following their 10-year wedding anniversary, Adam and Annie would go celebrate by hopping a very last-minute flight to Nantucket—one of their favorite destinations. Expecting this short trip to bring them some much-needed stress relief, it was at a celebratory dinner on the evening of June 4th that Adam fainted, landing us right back in the ER for some additional testing.
A vasovagal syncope episode is what they were told it was (they later learned that it was a mini seizure), but the thought of the cancer returning was weighing heavily on them. They contemplated changing their flight so that they could return home to be closer to their team of doctors, but we all encouraged them to stay. We knew they needed the break and with everything that had been going on, it was unlikely this opportunity would come anytime soon.
July would soon approach and Adam, Annie, and the kids would pack up the car to make their way down to Cape May, NJ for a week-long adventure. It was a trip they had on the calendar for months and the sun and sand was the perfect place to spend the hot summer days. Little did they know that their family vacation would soon be cut short by yet another medical emergency when just one day post their arrival, Adam would suffer a Grand Mal Seizure in his sleep, leading us to yet some more awful news. Unable to leave the children on their own, my sister was forced to send Adam off in an ambulance bound for the nearest hospital where he received care throughout the night. They had less than 24 hours to enjoy their vacation and they were already heading back home for an MRI scheduled that following morning. A couple of days later, they would review images confirming that Adam’s cancer had returned just fifteen short months following his first surgery—the tumor embedding itself much larger and deeper than the last.
With fewer options to comb through, Annie, Adam and their doctor decided that a second opinion was worth a shot. Having scoured the web for clinical trials and available treatment options, they would soon learn that a trial offered through the Mayo Clinic Rochester would perhaps be the next best step. With Annie’s family in Minnesota and with the Mayo Clinic consistently ranked as one of the top research hospitals in the world, they felt they had little choice but to consider a move that would position themselves closer to greater support and even better medical care. Luckily, they had the full support of their amazing neurooncologist at NYU, Dr. Sylvia Kurz, but all of this would depend on how the next round of surgery would go.
On August 14th, 2019, Adam had yet another successful resection of the same brain tumor, only this time, the recovery would take much longer, be more challenging and would have a greater effect on his personality, fine motor skills, and energy level. As a result of Adam’s chemotherapy treatment just a few months earlier, he would continue to battle low platelet levels—causing some great uncertainty that the clinical trial would no longer be an option for him. Eventually, these dangerously low levels would warrant a couple of platelet transfusions and a lot of rest, but Adam and Annie pressed forward as they always did, making plans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preparing for what would be yet another challenging period in their lives.
Adam quickly received the OK from his team of doctors to proceed with the trial at the Mayo Clinic, which was both a relieving and also very unnerving step in the process, as Adam would be traveling by plane more frequently during a time when his recovery was most crucial. This would also prove to be a more stressful time for Annie, as she would continue to juggle and be torn between a busy family calendar, a full-time work schedule and the desire to accompany Adam on all his trips between New Jersey and Minnesota.
The hope was that this year-long clinical trial would buy them more time. And quite frankly, time was all the entire family wanted for them. In September of 2019, Adam would narrowly clear all requirements for the trial and begin his first treatment shortly thereafter.
Having Annie’s family in Minnesota could not have set them up any better for the number of trips Adam would make every couple of weeks. It was comforting for Annie to know that Adam always had a safe and comfortable place to stay and that he would always be accompanied to his appointments by the family that loved and supported him. They were also incredibly grateful for their nanny Lauren, who was always there for them—offering to lend a hand and provide extra love and support when they most needed it.
The frequent trips required of the trial and having family in Minnesota only helped to validate their decision to make a long-distance move. And while this decision would be the best one for them, it would also add a lot more stress to their already busy lives as they would prepare to both sell and purchase a home in two different states.
Despite the anticipation of a new move and the hope for a new lease on life, they would yet again, be confronted with some very unfortunate news. Adam would learn that the dendritic cell clinical trial was not working in all the ways the doctors had anticipated and so they would agree to a new treatment option known as Avastin. Ideally, the Avastin would calm a lot of the swelling that Adam was experiencing as a result of the trial and would continue to choke out any blood supply that was being fed to the tumor site. I should also mention that this setback wouldn’t change their minds about their upcoming move. In fact, with the help of two incredible real estate agents, they were able to sell their Glen Ridge home and purchase a new home before the New Year. By mid-December, they were unpacking boxes in Minnesota and already settling themselves into a new life.
Here and Now:
On December 20th, Adam and Annie would visit the Mayo Clinic for a follow-up appointment with their neurooncologist to review the results of an MRI from earlier that week—a very welcomed set of images following his complications from the recent trial. They were anxious to learn of those results, but had reason to be concerned, as the previous ten weeks had brought about an even greater change in Adam’s personality, cognitive awareness, affect, voice, gait and short-term memory. Later that same day, their greatest fears were confirmed; not only had his tumor regenerated for the third time, but they learned that the cancer cells were now rapidly spreading and had already entered the spinal fluid of his brain.
Adam, Annie, and their children and are now battling hard and hoping for a true miracle. They are surrounded by loving family and friends, staying positive and are taking things one day at a time.
All donations collected through this fundraiser will be used toward the cost of medical bills and equipment, meals, medications, home care, grief counseling and activities that will help promote coping/healing for the children. We thank every one of you for your continued love and support and look forward to updating you on their journey in the days and weeks to come.
Jeanna Cooper & Sperling/Cooper Families