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Battling Fires, Fighting Cancer

Firefighters are known as heroes, and one local man hasn’t let having a brain tumor stop him from serving his community. On June 15, Michael Hallquest, a Glen Head native who currently lives in Glen Cove participated in the annual New York Brain Tumor Walk and his team raised more than $12,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society.

Hallquest, a graduate of North Shore High School, has been a member of the Sea Cliff Volunteer Fire Department since 2001. After finishing college in 2005, he achieved his longtime dream of joining the Fire Department of New York, and was a member of the “Elmhurst Eagles”—Ladder Company 136 in Queens—until his diagnosis of brain cancer in 2010.

However, Hallquest native was forced to leave his dream job after only five years. One night while at dinner with friends, Hallquest suffered a full-blown seizure without warning, and was rushed to the hospital. A series of tests confirmed he had an astrocytoma brain tumor, most of which was successfully removed with his initial surgery. Still, the side effects of the tumor, including regular seizures, were too much of a strain to remain with the FDNY.

Hallquest says that now he suffers from focal seizures on occasion that last about 30 seconds: “The seizures don’t prevent me from doing anything, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

 Unfortunately, as is the nature of brain tumors, his most recent scans show growth of the tumor. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy to treat the recurrence. He also now understands the complexity of brain tumors, and thus the need for research to find more lasting treatments.

“There is no actual cure, just a status quo,” he says, which is why he has gotten involved in the search for a cure with the National Brain Tumor Society, a national nonprofit.

“Brain tumors are highly complex, highly adaptable, and current survival rates for patients are unacceptable,” says N. Paul TonThat, executive director of National Brain Tumor Society. “Funds raised through our events across the country allow us to drive innovative research to accelerate discoveries of new treatments that will increase survival and improve the quality of life for brain tumor patients and survivors.”

According to the NBTS, more than 688,000 Americans are currently living with a primary brain tumor, and an estimated 13,700 people will die because of the disease this year. Brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer-related death in children under age 20. Only one out of three adults diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor today will be alive in five years. More so than any other cancer, a brain tumor can have life-altering psychological, cognitive, behavioral, and physical effects. Yet, with only four FDA-approved therapies in the past 30 years, treatment options are limited and often come with adverse side effects.

The NBTS says it is committed to finding better treatments, and ultimately a cure, for people living with a brain tumor today and those who will be diagnosed tomorrow.

Hallquest is listed as the second-highest earning fundraiser in the New York Brain Tumor Walk, raising $9,873, and his team of 22 people, the Cell Crushers, ranked sixth, raised $12,138. To learn more or donate, visit www.braintumor.org or www.BrainTumorWalk.org/NewYork

Hallquest says he sticks close to his family and friends, who give him a lot of support.

“You just have to enjoy life, because you never know,” he says.