Mac DeClue was the epitome of health, but a cancer diagnosis changed his life overnight.
“That is the hard part, nothing is as it used to be,” said DeClue, a Columbus North High School graduate who lives in Boston. “You don’t know when something can happen. You’re hypersensitive to things.”
Everything changed in the early hours of March 2.
That Sunday, DeClue spent the day out with his girlfriend, Liz DeRita, and some friends. While at a restaurant, DeClue experienced an odd sensation on the left side of his body. After drinking some water and resting for a few minutes, the feeling went away.
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The couple returned to DeClue’s apartment that evening, and he seemed fine.
“At 2 a.m. he woke me up and said, ‘Liz, it’s happening again. Call an ambulance,’” DeRita said.
By the time she made it back from getting DeClue’s roommate, who called for an ambulance, DeClue was in the midst of a full seizure that lasted about 45 seconds. The convulsion left DeClue unconscious.
“It was the scariest moment of my life,” 25-year-old DeRita said. “I didn’t know if he was breathing. Then he was gasping for breath and started to come to.”
DeClue was rushed to Tufts Medical Center’s emergency room.
After several hours and tests, including a CAT scan and MRI, DeClue was admitted to the hospital. The imaging tests picked up on a shaded area in the back, right lobe of DeClue’s brain. The doctors scheduled him for surgery on March 9.
“Going into surgery you kind of still have the mindset you’ve been normal this whole time,” DeClue said. “I had the seizure, but you’re thinking that maybe it’s just something they can go in and remove and things will go back to how they were.”
The surgery, performed at Tufts Medical Center, yielded two tumors, one the size of a grape and the other pea-size. But DeClue and his family had to wait several weeks to get the pathology report and learn if the growths were malignant.
On St. Patrick’s Day, DeClue and his family were told he had glioblastoma Grade 4, an aggressive, rare form of brain cancer.
When he received his diagnosis, DeClue said, everything went through his mind.
DeClue had been asymptomatic, meaning he exhibited no symptoms.
“If the seizure hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital or found out anything was wrong,” he said.
Older brother Ike DeClue said he knew Mac wasn’t in a favorable situation, but he was determined to remain optimistic.
“My mindset was that you always have to show strength in the face of adversity,” 35-year-old Ike DeClue said. “Especially when you’re not going through it and someone else is, so they can feed off your strength.”
Mac DeClue and his family decided to get a second opinion and met with a cancer treatment team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, one of the leading cancer research hospitals in the country.
The 29-year-old has been working with them ever since.
The initial treatment approach was intense and required DeClue to undergo radiation five days a week for six weeks, followed by six weeks of chemotherapy, which in his case was administered in pill form.
To allow his brain time to fully heal from surgery, DeClue started treatment on April 20.
At the end of the first round of his treatment, DeClue underwent another MRI. Results showed no swelling, inflammation or new growths.
DeClue is undergoing a six-month regimen of chemotherapy administered for five consecutive days with 23 days off between, which will be followed by another MRI.
“Since the first MRI was clear, they feel pretty good about how the chemo is treating me,” DeClue said. “I think even if something were to pop up, they would still keep the treatment plan as it is, because they do feel good about it and go from there.”
Prior to his illness, DeClue was often at the gym, on the basketball court or out hiking and enjoying nature. Now it is difficult to stay as active, he said. But he recently returned to the gym through a two-day per week program for cancer patients offered through the Livestrong Foundation, which offers support to individuals affected by cancer.
Ike DeClue said his brother’s stubbornness is one of his strengths.
“I think that is how he is able to meet this and not just stop eating and doing,” Ike DeClue said. “He’s tried to continue as fairly normal as possible.”
Mac DeClue, a program manager for the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University, has continued to work from home throughout his treatment.
In a situation that will either make or break a relationship, DeRita said DeClue’s illness has definitely brought them closer together. They’ve continued to see the good in things and no longer take anything for granted.
“Just to be able to get out of bed everyday, do work, go to the gym and act like you’re living a normal life when you know in the back of your head that you’re diagnosed with something as serious as brain cancer is an amazing thing,” DeRita said. “He is Superman to me.”
Mac DeClue admits he is much more appreciative of the little things and life but is also more cautious about things he wouldn’t have paid attention to previously.
Looking ahead, DeClue said, he plans to keep on track with a healthy lifestyle and adhering to his treatment regimen.
“Hopefully, I will get to a point where I was,” he said. “I’m just going to keep plugging away and keep as positive as I can.”
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Name: Mac DeClue
Resides: Boston (but grew up in Columbus)
Type of cancer: Glioblastoma, Grade 4
When diagnosed: March 17
Family: Parents, Tim and Elaine DeClue, of Columbus; brother, Ike DeClue, of Columbus; sisters, Kelly Glick and Ali Vollmer, of Columbus.
Advice to those with cancer: “You’re going to have bad days, but you can’t let one bad day or a bad week get you down because it can change for the better just like that. It ebbs and flows. Lean on people around you because you can’t do it alone.”