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Two Well-Known Writers Share Diagnoses of Aggressive Brain Cancer

Brain cancer can affect anyone. “Scary Mommy” creator Jill Smokler and “Confessions of a Shopaholic” author Sophie Kinsella share their recent diagnoses with the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma.

In April 2024, “Scary Mommy” creator Jill Smokler was rushed to the hospital after a sudden first-time seizure. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which a surgeon then removed during emergency surgery. Immediately after waking from surgery, Jill not only thought she was 20 years in the past but also didn’t recognize her children.

“I am definitely grateful that I don’t remember the looks on their faces when I didn’t recognize them,” she says. “That must have been gutting.” While she was still disoriented, a doctor explained what had happened. “I was like, ‘That’s so me to get a brain tumor.’ I always do things dramatically,” Jill says.

In these types of cases, while doctors may suspect an aggressive brain cancer from imaging results and during surgery, the diagnosis doesn’t come until the pathology report returns from the lab, which may be weeks later. 

After her pathology came back, Jill received her diagnosis: Glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive primary malignant brain tumor, the most deadly, and one for which there is no cure.

Jill isn’t the only person in the public eye to share a recent glioblastoma diagnosis. Author of the “Confessions of a Shopaholic” series Sophie Kinsella received a glioblastoma diagnosis in 2022 and has been undergoing treatment ever since.

“At the moment all is stable,” Sophie Kinsella shared to X in April. She waited to share her health news until she and her family had time to process it in privacy.

Sophie Kinsella notes that she is experiencing fatigue and memory issues but is otherwise well.

Glioblastoma Treatment and Outlook

Glioblastoma starts in brain cells called glial cells and spreads throughout the brain where it overtakes healthy brain tissue, causing symptoms like seizures and headaches. Depending on the location of the tumor, a person may also experience vision and mood changes, difficulties with movement, and have trouble speaking or understanding speech.

Treatment traditionally involves surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation and oral chemotherapy. In addition to the recovery from brain surgery, the treatment comes with its own set of side effects, including memory changes and fatigue. This first line therapy for glioblastoma has not changed since 2005.

And despite treatment, glioblastoma usually returns and develops resistance to available treatment. Though some people may live longer, the median survival after diagnosis is only 15 months. Only 7.2% of people are alive five years after their diagnosis and only 1% live 10 years after diagnosis.

Jill Smokler says that her treatment plan is all about “buying time.”

“All I want to do is spend time with my kids, ideally on a beach because that’s my happy place,” Smokler adds. “It’s so ridiculously bittersweet — I am trying to focus on the sweet part.”

The Power of Research in Advancing Treatment

Clinical trials to find alternative treatment options for glioblastoma are ongoing, with some promising advances. 

Researchers are currently looking into immunotherapy and personalized vaccines, which train the body’s immune system to attack the cancer cells, targeted treatments and inhibitors that prevent the cancerous cells from growing for a time, and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, which involves using genetically modified immune T-cells to target cancer cells. 

But, so far, these studies have not led to a significant increase in life expectancy for people with glioblastoma.

Research into treatment for glioblastoma also unlocks treatments for other brain cancers that have no cure, including other forms of glioma, such as astrocytoma and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) or pons glioma, a fast-growing brain tumor that starts in a part of the brainstem and typically affects children. Doctors treat some types of brain cancer with the same chemotherapy drugs.

People with brain cancer may undergo multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. But there typically comes a point where these treatments are no longer effective and have more risks than benefits.

Despite this, Jill Smokler is staying hopeful and focusing on the positive.

“I’m on a younger end of the spectrum and I’m otherwise relatively healthy,” she says. “Things look optimistic.”

Younger age and better overall health are associated with longer survival. Other factors that impact a person’s prognosis include certain cellular markers in the tumor itself and how well it responds to treatment.

For people who have these tumors like Jill Smokler and Sophie Kinsella, a longer survival can mean a greater chance of living long enough for additional treatment options down the road to become available.

Funding research into glioblastoma and other brain cancers is the only way we will discover additional treatment options and give people like Jill, Sophie, and their families —- who are living with these brain diseases right now — hope for the future. 

The American Brain Foundation is committed to finding cures for brain diseases like glioblastoma and other brain cancers. Donate today to make a difference. With your help, we can all experience life without brain disease.