Ira Bornstein was driving home from his youngest son’s wedding when his car began to drift toward the highway’s centerline. He remained calm and unconcerned — he figured someone had just recently moved the rumble strips he kept running over. For Sandy, Ira’s wife, sitting anxiously in the passenger seat, it was a very long ride.
The next day, when Ira got confused during a walk through the couple’s neighborhood, it was the final straw for Sandy. She took Ira to see his primary care doctor, who immediately ordered an MRI revealing the culprit behind Ira’s unusual behavior: a 5-centimeter brain tumor. Ira, then age 66, was diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM).
For Sandy, who married Ira more than four decades ago, the diagnosis was overwhelming. “Ira has always been my rudder, always kept me straight,” she said.
Even in the face of a difficult diagnosis, Ira remained reassuring. “He basically said, ‘We’ll get through this,’” Sandy said. “And it kind of had a rippling effect because I started thinking about researching how other people beat the odds of an incurable diagnosis.”
Doctors told the couple that Ira would need brain surgery the next day. Sandy immediately took digital images of Ira’s MRI scan. She went home to start planning for the days ahead and simultaneously took steps to find a brain surgeon, while Ira stayed overnight at the hospital for monitoring.
“I don’t know how long it took me to leave the hospital,” Sandy said. “I got disoriented, because I was in shock. There’s no doubt in my mind. I was in absolute shock. I couldn’t find my way out of the hospital.”
The next day, the Bornsteins met with a surgeon at a regional research hospital, and a week later, Ira had surgery to remove his tumor. One day after his eight-and-a-half-hour procedure, with his doctor’s blessing, Ira was up and walking, logging more than 2 miles total in a series of small trips around the hospital.
Ira, a lawyer licensed in three states, has always found challenges energizing. “I love obstacles,” he said. “It’s just something else to overcome in your life, and if you put yourself to it and you commit yourself to it, who’s to say that you’re not going to be able to be successful? I’m a big believer in that.”
Since his surgery, Ira has undergone additional treatments.
Now, the Bornsteins, who live near Boulder, Colorado, focus on healthy habits. After consulting with several nutrition experts, Sandy, a writer and educator, started cooking everything the couple eats from scratch. She also encourages Ira, who used to sleep only four to five hours per night, to get more rest.
The couple also maintains an active lifestyle, something they enjoyed before Ira’s diagnosis. They walk 2 to 5 miles a day and do resistance training multiple times a week. They hike, downhill ski, snowshoe, ride horses, and snorkel in the ocean. They took an hour-long private archery class where they hit bullseyes. They also enjoy traveling and spending time with their four sons and six grandchildren.
“This is just who I always was,” Ira said. “The commitment was, unless I am unable to do it, to do what I would do without this diagnosis.”
The health status of patients featured reflects their condition at the time the story was written and photographs were taken and may have changed over time.