UPDATE 8/31/2009: Kevin Carlberg suffered a recurrence of his cancer and, despite treatment, he passed away on Saturday, August 29, 2009. Through his participation in a clinical trial at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Carlberg lived about four times longer than the average glioblastoma patient. His participation also helped move cancer research forward. We thank him.
Whenever he visits UCLA to see his doctor, Kevin Carlberg always wears the same thing—a faded blue T-shirt bearing a phrase that has become his life motto: “Don’t worry, be happy.”
That can be a tall order for someone diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer. But Carlberg, 30, manages to pull it off.
“I try to live more in the right now than anything else,” said Carlberg, who lives in West Hollywood. “I’m enjoying life. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”
As lead singer and guitar player, Carlberg was on the road with his band, Pseudopod, in Colorado in November 2002 when he experienced severe head pain. He thought it was a migraine, but the pain kept intensifying so his band mates took him to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Later he learned he had glioblastoma and that his tumor—judging by its size and aggression - was about as bad as it could be. What he didn’t know then, and didn’t want to know, was that most glioblastoma patients live only about a year after diagnosis, even after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Carlberg was transferred to UCLA, where top neurosurgeon Dr. Linda Liau removed the tumor. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy, the conventional therapies to fight his disease. But he also went a step further. In May 2004, he enrolled in a brain cancer vaccine study being led by Liau, a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. The leading-edge study uses the patient’s tumor to create individualized vaccines based on the tumor’s protein expression profile.
The then 25-year-old received several personalized vaccine injections and hoped the experimental therapy would keep his cancer from coming back. And it has.
Beating the odds, the young man has survived more than three times longer than the average glioblastoma patient treated with conventional therapies. And he’s made good use of that time.
He married his college sweetheart, welcomed a daughter, Lyric, into his life and in 2005, he ran the Los Angeles Marathon, raising money for cancer research at UCLA. He recently completed his first solo CD, a singer-songwriter debut with a bluesy, jazzy feel. Several tracks reflect his experience battling cancer. (You can find out more about his music here: http://www.myspace.com/kevincarlbergmusic.)
Carlberg said enrolling in a clinical trial never gave him pause. He knew the treatment was unproven, but said he was willing to “do anything and everything” to fight his cancer.
“My view was that I had to go in there and kick butt,” he said. “So that’s what I did from square one.”
To monitor for recurrence, Carlberg gets a scan every three months. So far, the scans are clear. He’s cancer free.
“I feel like I can be a good role model for people and maybe a source of inspiration for some,” said Carlberg, who married his wife, Meritt, on Jan. 25, 2003, about two months after his diagnosis. “Through my music, people will know that I have survived and am surviving and I’m spreading the word that way.”
Part of the proceeds from sales of his CD will fund cancer research at UCLA. It’s his way to give back, he said.
“Dr. Liau is my hero,” Carlberg said. “I always felt safe with her. She’s amazing.”
While pursuing his solo career, Carlberg plays “Mr. Mom” to Lyric and cherishes every moment he gets to spend with his daughter, who will turn three in June.
And what about that T-shirt?
“I wear it every time I go see Dr. Liau. It’s my lucky shirt,” Carlberg said. “When you go to the hospital, you see a lot of people who are bummed out. I’m happy and I want to make other people feel happy, too, and know that you can survive this.”
His live-in the-now philosophy helps him maintain his sunny demeanor.
“It can be scary when we go in for the scans, but Meritt says we can handle anything if we just take one day at the time,” Carlberg said. “Life is a marathon, and we take it one step at a time.”
- By Kim Irwin