Highland News Leader

Highland mom looks to community for support in her fight against rare brain cancer

Learn how you can help a Highland mother fighting rare brain cancer

Heather Potthast of Highland was recently diagnosed with a rare brain cancer called medulloblastoma. About 200 adults are diagnosed with the illness every year. Potthast's family wants to raise funds to help pay for her treatment through GoFundMe.
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Heather Potthast of Highland was recently diagnosed with a rare brain cancer called medulloblastoma. About 200 adults are diagnosed with the illness every year. Potthast's family wants to raise funds to help pay for her treatment through GoFundMe.

A Highland family is asking the community to join in a local woman’s fight against brain cancer.

In April, Heather Potthast was diagnosed with a type of brain tumor called medulloblastoma. The ailment is the most common malignant childhood brain tumor. But the condition rarely occurs in adults.

“She just happens to be one of 200 adults that will be diagnosed this year,” said Chris Bruce, Potthast’s fiance.

Potthast started exhibiting symptoms in early March, Bruce said.

“It started with headaches,” he said.

They were chronic, usually occurring in the morning. At first, neither Bruce nor Potthast thought much about it. They chalked it up to stress, both were entering the busy season at work. But then the headaches started to get worse, and were often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

On April 4, Bruce said that his 12 years of EMT experience gave him a gut feeling that something was not right.

“I said, ‘That’s it. We are going to the hospital,’ ” he said.

After arriving at the hospital, a scan revealed that there was a mass in Potthast’s brain. After being transferred to St. Louis University Hospital, the family was told that Potthast would need an operation, or the tumor could take her life within a month, according to Bruce.

The next day, the couple returned to work to relay the news to their supervisors.

“That night, she started having double vision,” Bruce said.

Potthast was checked in to the hospital and underwent brain surgery on April 9. During the almost seven-hour surgery, Bruce said most of the 3.5-centimeter mass was removed.

“We were hoping it wasn’t cancer,” Bruce said.

But, about a week later, the family’s worst fears were realized. It was medulloblastoma. They knew they would be in for a battle, but it was one they were going to wage.

“We were kind of like, ‘OK, what do we do to fight it?’ ” Bruce said.

Potthast was prescribed with about 31 radiation treatments focused on her brain and spine, according to Bruce. However, partway through May, the family experienced another setback.

“This type of cancer grows,” Bruce said.

Before Potthast could start treatment, they had to wait a short amount of time for the doctor to return from vacation, according to Bruce. The tumor, which he said had been reduced to about 1.3 centimeters by the surgery, had partially grown back, which inhibited Potthast’s involuntary motor skills. She fell as she was descending the stairs, breaking one of her neck vertebrates and creating a large gash on the top of her head.

“She was in the hospital for about two weeks,” Bruce said.

During that stay, the family learned that Potthast’s cancer had spread, creating small lesions on her spine.

Potthast is now about two-thirds of the way through her radiation treatment. But once she is finished, Bruce said that she will begin chemotherapy, which is estimated to begin in late-August.

“It’s a roller coaster with hill after hill,” Bruce said.

However, even though there are some very bad days, Bruce said there are things that keep Potthast going for the good ones.

“Brody is her strength and source of positivity,” Bruce said.

Together, the couple has a 2-year-old child, who has served as his mother’s best medicine. Though Brody knows his mother is sick, he stills finds a way to make a her smile everyday, Bruce said.

Potthast also finds strength from the rest of her family, as she regularly attends St. Paul Catholic Church with her mother and grandmother. The family would also like to thank those in the community who have been so supportive.

The family would also like to ask for the community’s support in another way.

Even with insurance, and their employee benefits helping with part of the medical costs, Bruce said that they were told treatment would cost them anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 out-of-pocket. In hopes of raising some money to relieve the expense, Bruce created a GoFundMe page named “Fight for Heather.” The family will also post updates on Potthast’s condition on the page.

Bruce said that the funds will be used specifically for Potthast’s medical expenses. If there is any leftover money, it will be donated to SLU for medulloblastoma-related research.

Aside from funding, Bruce said that the family is also in need of a shower chair for Potthast, and gas cards to help to alleviate the expense of driving to St. Louis for treatment on a near daily basis.

“Thank you for generosity,” Bruce said to those who have already helped out and those who still might. “It’s greatly appreciated and is such a blessing to us in this time of need.”