Finding Her Balance

brain metastasis patient
Elizabeth Levene with providers
Patient Elizabeth Levene with John Kirkpatrick and nurse practitioner Karen Allen, MSN, ANP-BC.

In October 2018, Elizabeth Levene learned that her breast cancer had figured out a way around the targeted therapies she’d been taking and had metastasized to her brain. Duke’s John Kirkpatrick, MD, PhD, immediately treated her with a stereotactic radiosurgery procedure to “zap” the five brain tumors, and repeated the procedure when one more tumor was discovered the following June. She was getting MRIs of her brain and PET scans of the rest of her body every three months to keep an eye out for any cancer recurrences.

For Levene, continuing to work full-time (often from Duke Cancer Center) was a way to survive through it all. She serves as executive director of the local non-profit Helps Education Fund, which, with a close-to $1 million budget, engages teachers, parents, and volunteers to to improve student learning.

In September 2019, her brain scan came back totally clear. A little less worried, and with virtually no side effects from treatment, Levene proceeded to do things she’d been putting on hold like visiting her brother in South Carolina, the state where she grew up.

In February 2020, Levene had a seizure and had to undergo a craniectomy—a bilateral removal of two cerebellar lesions, performed by Peter Fecci, MD, PhD. She also underwent more stereotactic radiosurgery. Because of a new anti-seizure medicine she must take, Levene found it hard to read and to respond to emails and texts, so she took the months of February and March off from work. “I don’t remember the whole month of February,” she says. “But people say I’m talking better, I’m looking good. I feel like I’m getting better. This is not my forever.