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Mark McLaughlin: Staying Fit for the Fight Against Brain Cancer

Publication: Austin American-Statesman, Austin

Last September, while experiencing an unusual, sharp headache, Mark McLaughlin made a trip to the emergency room at the request of his wife Nancy and their daughter Hannah. The cause of the headache would be life-altering. Mark was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“The doctors go, ‘Either we go forward with the brain cancer treatment, or in 4 to 6 weeks you’ll be dead,” said Mark McLaughlin. “I go, ‘Well there’s only one answer!’"

The doctors worked quickly, removing 95 percent of the baseball-sized tumor in Mark’s brain. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Texas Oncology–Austin Midtown, where he regularly visits neuro-oncologist and Austin Brain Tumor Center founder Dr. Morris D. Groves. The McLaughlins selected Dr. Groves after sending an SOS to family and friends and hearing excellent feedback. Since day one, Mark says Dr. Groves has been there for him not only as a physician, but as a friend.

“He’s just a unique individual with an unbelievable heart,” said Mark, of Dr. Groves. “The first time we met, talking went so well. He’s so easy to understand, and he’s such a nice man. He’s very open-minded, very knowledgeable, he just takes care of brain cancer.”

Dr. Groves, a leading brain cancer researcher, develops novel clinical trials using promising new treatments to help patients fight brain tumors. By genetically profiling Mark’s tumor, Dr. Groves discovered it has a specific mutation that a vaccine has been developed to match. Should the tumor ever begin to grow back, Mark would likely enroll in the trial related to that vaccine. The McLaughlins continue to be impressed by the medical expertise, as well as the personal touch that Dr. Groves and team provide.

“[Dr. Groves] and the entire staff could not have been nicer or more supportive,” said Nancy. “Not just in getting everything done, but supportive as in, “Hey, we really are here for you.”

Mark’s illness is not the first time he’s confronted a major challenge. As a former Wall Street bond trader, Mark routinely worked out at a gym near the World Trade Center buildings. A seemingly casual decision to reschedule a workout meant that he was not in the area on September 11, 2001. Eventually, he moved to Texas, changing his location as well as his perspective.

“My goal was to change my attitude. I don’t get mad. I try to help people.”

For Mark, it’s about giving care, as well as receiving it. His energy and positivity are contagious, and he uses both to serve as a mentor for family, friends and fellow patients at Texas Oncology, where he serves as an encouraging voice and listening ear. In addition, Dr. Groves and staff love receiving Mark’s trademark hugs.

“Dr. Groves has grown up from high fives from me,” said Mark. “Now we only give hugs. I allowed him two or three high fives, and then I said ‘Listen, this has to stop. I give hugs.'”

Despite the challenges in his fight against cancer, Mark is staying true to who he is, which includes staying fit. He’s in phenomenal shape at age 61 and has exercised regularly for decades. In addition to a healthy diet, Mark maintains a rigorous exercise routine and even converted his two-car garage into a workout area where he leads fitness sessions for a group of neighborhood friends aged 57-68.

Mark and his family also recently participated in Head for the Cure’s Central Texas 5K, with Mark’s team raising over $10,000 for brain cancer research, earning him the Keeping the Faith Award. Most recently, he completed another 5K in Boston, and has a goal to complete 10 this year.

As for the McLaughlins’ most important race—the journey of fighting cancer— they’re pressing forward with an attitude of thankfulness.

“When this was happening, I prayed to God to guide us to the right people,” said Nancy. “Get us to the right surgeon, the right oncologist, the right place, and He has."

As for Mark, he feels thankful to have Nancy by his side for the journey, each and every day.

“I am lucky to be married,” said Mark. “I’m lucky to be alive, because Nancy is unbelievable. I’m so lucky, it’s not even funny.”

Read the story from the Austin American-Statesman.

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