18-Year brain tumor survivor thriving from third awake brain surgery & immunotherapy vaccine from Dr. Linda Liau at UCLA


Jeannine Walston shares her story, with detailed information about her experience at UCLA, Dr. Liau, brain surgery, immunotherapy vaccine, and how to support research.

In 1998 at age 24, I worked in the U.S. Congress with plans for law school. However, the unexpected emerged when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I quickly learned the importance of conducting research, collecting multiple opinions, asking important questions, engaging in quality decision-making, and aspiring to choose wisely.

Research showed the importance of awake brain surgery since my brain tumor resided in my left temporal lobe impacting speech, memory, and hearing. I had my first awake brain surgery one month after my diagnosis, and the entire tumor was removed with some surrounding tissue. From there, I recovered for four weeks before returning to my job. I also focused on using complementary, alternative, and holistic health and healing approaches.

I ultimately needed a second awake brain surgery in 2011. But, new challenges surfaced and actions were necessary to identify further treatments.

I had a consultation with Dr. Linda Liau, MD, PhD, and she recommended my third awake brain surgery through personalized medicine and other skills not available anywhere else. UCLA is the only hospital in the US with the Functional MRI specifically to provide intricate, individualized results. Dr. Liau uses the Functional MRI to map out the brain to remove as much as the possible while protecting cognitive functions.


On November 19, 2013, I decided to schedule my third awake brain surgery and recall being taken to the operating room and placed onto the surgical table. Within a few minutes, I drifted into sleep. For eight hours, under the direction of Dr. Liau, physicians, nurses, and other providers helped to heal my brain. After my surgery, I had additional treatments in 2014 with both radiation and oral chemotherapy as well as the DCVax-L vaccine.

And I’m still here, alive, and thriving. I carry gratitude for those who have helped me survive, and especially Dr. Liau. I am deeply inspired to give back to brain cancer research. I’ve done that in various ways through coaching, education, advocacy, presentations, speeches, fundraising, and other roles.

On October 27, I attended the 2016 Visionary Ball at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with nearly 700 people honoring outstanding individuals and providing donations to the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery. Dr. Liau received the Medical Visionary Award. She is world-renowned in her field, with a long list of accomplishments and leading-edge approaches for tackling this complicated disease. Dr. Liau’s clinical expertise is in intraoperative functional brain mapping and the use of intraoperative imaging for the resection of brain tumors, specifically for gliomas, meningiomas and metastatic tumors. Her research efforts are focused on the molecular biology of brain tumors, gene therapy, immunotherapy, and developing brain cancer vaccines.

Nearly two decades ago, Dr. Liau’s early research led to the development of the very first personalized brain cancer vaccine in the United States. It works by combining the patient's brain tissue with their own dendritic immune cells drawn from blood to create a personalized treatment. This customized treatment is formulated by activating the patient’s own dendritic cells against the tumor cells in the laboratory, and then injecting them back into the body to jumpstart the patient’s immune system to train “killer T cells” to seek out and kill the tumor in the brain.

I received the vaccine to treat Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma (AA). Moreover, I’ve met and spoken with Grade IV glioblastoma (GBM) patients treated by Dr. Liau with surgery and the DCVax-L vaccine who have also experienced remarkable results. Some of those GBM patients include: Jennifer, a 16-year GBM survivor; Brad, a 13-year GBM survivor; Elijah, a 9-year GBM survivor; Gallia, a 5-year GBM survivor; Jamil, a 4-year GBM survivor; and several other individuals.

I ask that you consider making a tax-deductible donation directly to the UCLA Brain Tumor Program in support of Dr. Liau. As we move further into the holiday season, giving a gift makes a difference. For brain tumor patients in need, and those diagnosed in the future, time is of the essence.

Jeannine Walston is a brain tumor survivor since 1998, Cancer Coach, consultant, and speaker. Her extensive work includes for the U.S. Congress, cancer non-profits, National Cancer Institute, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hospitals, clinics, doctors, providers, other businesses, cancer patients, and caregivers. Learn more at jeanninewalston.com.