Clemencia Prieto, right, points out the amount of research Robert Lefferts, left, has done to help the support group at the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation. (Fernie Castillo / El Paso Times)
(El Paso Times – El Paso, Tex.) -- The diagnosis of a brain tumor feels like a death sentence for many patients.
But a new support group in East El Paso is helping a small group of survivors face their conditions and look toward the future.
The group is small, but its members' goal is not. They want to live one more year without a recurring brain tumor.
The eight-member Brain Tumor Support Group meets at the Del Sol Regional Oncology center and is led by a Gulf War veteran and former Fort Bliss air defense soldier, Robert Lefferts.
It is the first brain tumor support group recognized by the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation.
The second Tuesday of every month, its members share information and their frustrations and triumphs with brain cancer.
"I've done some remodeling on my home," Augie Vega said during a recent meeting. "People are wondering what I'm doing, but I couldn't just sit at home anymore. I had to get up and do something, and because of that my upper-body strength is finally coming back."
Vega has stage 2 Oligodendroglioma brain cancer.
Lefferts, wearing a self-designed shirt that reads, "I will never stop fighting. You can beat Brain Cancer too," offered words of encouragement during a recent meeting.
"That's right. You don't just lie and wait," he said. "Cancer doesn't control you. You are in control of the cancer."
Lefferts was diagnosed in late 2009 with terminal brain cancer -- stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme. Doctors told him he only had about a year to live.
The news sent him into a depression.
But after a reading "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, and visiting livingwithbraincancer.com, his military discipline pushed him to pick himself up.
"I had two options, to lay there and just die or do so something about it," Lefferts said. "I decided to find out everything I could about my disease. And I fired my first doctor and went to get a second opinion."
To find answers, support and inspiration, he turned to books and the Internet.
At first, he found nothing but death. He found descriptions of symptoms that led to a final end.
But he continued to push forward and found inspiration through survivors who lived 20 years -- a rarity because most patients with his diagnosis are typically given about 18 months to live.
"I wanted to do something and reach out to people like me that need help," Lefferts said. "When I searched for local support, there was no one that specifically held a support group for those with brain tumors, brain cancer or for their families and caregivers. So I decided to start my own."
He has become an advocate for himself and others with brain tumors, and he grills his doctors about his disease.
"I record every piece of information I receive," Lefferts said. "Afterward, I take the information the doctor told me and pass along the information. I pick up books, pamphlets and any other information I can get my hands on, and then I pass it on. Everyone should be educated about their disease."
He also tries to stay in touch with longtime survivors and uses them as a source of inspiration for himself and others.
"The main thing to do in our group is to set goals and never give up," Lefferts said. "With goals you remained focused and determined. My goal is to make it to make it to the next five years."
Information about the support group: Jutta Ramirez at 562-7660 or Robert Lefferts at 585-1551 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: Patients and families or caregivers of patients diagnosed with brain cancer, brain tumors or both.
When: Second Tuesday of every month.
Where:"10460 Vista Del Sol Drive, Suite 101.
Time:"5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Contact: Jutta Ramirez at 562-7660 or Robert Lefferts at 585-1551 and at email@example.com.