Patient Stories

A Surprising Diagnosis: Encountering Esthesioneuroblastoma

Feb. 12, 2024

Michael Rueve is the proud parent to four incredible children, a devoted spouse of 25 years to his wife Shaune, and the youngest of 12 children. And in the summer of 2021, he would need his community more than ever as he navigated a rare and unexpected diagnosis.

Symptoms and Emergency Responses

Michael had just returned home from celebrating his daughter’s graduation from Boston College when a profuse, bloody nose began. Another nosebleed began in August while playing in a charity golf outing. The severity of the nosebleed led him to a local emergency room.

“They kind of dismissed it, but I knew something wasn’t right,” he recalls.

Diagnosis: Esthesioneuroblastoma

He underwent an emergency exploratory surgery and received a shocking diagnosis of esthesioneuroblastoma, also called olfactory neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that starts in the skull base.

“If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I even stumped Siri,” he says with a laugh.

Although Michael and Shaune hadn’t heard of the cancer before, they knew it wasn’t good. They also knew they wanted to understand Michael’s options of what would happen next. The original Cincinnati hospital where Michael received his diagnosis laid out a care plan that called for a highly invasive surgery that involved cutting his head temple to temple. This approach weighed heavily on Michael and Shaune. They wanted another opinion.

Michael was able to find one at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute. Michael happened to be close college friends with the son of renowned UC Health neurosurgeon Dr. John Tew, who was his first call after his exploratory surgery. Michael understood the legacy of great neurosurgeons we have here in our region. Soon after his diagnosis, he met with respected neurosurgeon Dr. Jonathan Forbes, who offered another path forward – a less invasive option, a shorter recovery time, fewer long-lasting effects, and a future reimagined.

Exploring Treatment Options: Surgery and Beyond

Before committing to the plan, he sought a final opinion at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. At Dana Farber, he received reassurance that he was in exceptional hands here in Cincinnati at UC Health. The plan was made, and it was time for treatment.

“I didn’t know the extent of it, but I knew that I was going to receive tremendous care because of the history of neurosurgery in Cincinnati. This is a destination for good neurosurgeons…I felt a sense of calm and confidence because I knew that I had an elite group helping me right in my backyard.”

On September 21, 2021, Michael underwent a successful surgery where the tumor was able to be completely resected in a much less invasive manner. The treatment journey did not end there, however.

The Role of Proton Therapy in Michael's Recovery

Three weeks after his surgery, Michael began a series of thirty-one treatments at the UC Health Proton Therapy Center and six rounds of chemotherapy at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center. He was grateful proton therapy was available in Cincinnati to target any remaining cancer cells. Each session, though challenging, was a step towards eradicating the disease. The precision of the proton therapy, a form of radiotherapy, played a critical role in his recovery, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

“People will say you’re ‘fighting cancer.’ But I wasn't fighting the cancer. Dr. Forbes, Dr. Phillips, the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, and UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute were. The doctors started fighting my cancer when they were in medical school and when they were staying up late. They were fighting as they prepared for my case. They continue to fight when they practice medicine and when they learn. I didn't feel I was fighting; I showed up, and they did their thing. You may be fighting when dealing with what it takes from you and facing some day-to-day challenges. But the care team they were the ones fighting. And they won.”

Navigating the Challenges: Chemotherapy and Proton Therapy

Physical and emotional challenges marked the journey through chemotherapy. Michael faced each round with resilience, aware of the crucial role these treatments played in helping to prevent future tumor recurrence. The combination of proton therapy and chemotherapy, while taxing, was pivotal in his fight against the aggressive nature of the tumor.

Recovery and Quality of Life Post-Treatment

It was a challenging journey, not without setbacks and turns. But today, life looks a lot like before. Michael looks back on his experience with deep gratitude towards his healthcare team and the support he received. He is a testament to resilience and hope in the face of a daunting diagnosis.

“I’m grateful to Dr. Forbes, Dr. (Katie) Phillips, and the entire team. Moe, my pharmacist, was incredible. She was always there…I’m extremely grateful. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I’m able to do everything I used to do. I’m back to playing golf. The complications or the side effects are inconsequential to the fact that my wish was to walk my girls down the aisle. Tomorrow isn’t promised…Greater Cincinnati must know we are extremely fortunate to have a first-class system and elite neurosciences practice here.”

His experience can serve as a beacon of hope for other skull base cancer patients and a testament to the world-class care in Cincinnati.