Steve and Vali Welhoelter are a retired couple who live two blocks from the beach in Ponce Inlet.
They are fit, positive and enjoy life in their comfortable home. But they are anything but typical.
Diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), Mr. Welhoelter wears a relatively new device called Optune every day. It is a devise by Novocure, an oncology company pioneering in novel therapy for solid tumors.
Optune is a portable, wearable device approved by the FDA that delivers therapy through four adhesive patches applied to the scalp and connected to the device and a battery. It creates an electrical field around the brain that disrupts cancer cells, preventing them from multiplying and forming new tumors.
Mr. Welhoelter said that, untreated, life expectancy for someone with GBM is six months. With surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, that improves to about a year. He was diagnosed with GBM several years ago.
While newly diagnosed, he found a clinical trial on the Internet. He decided he wanted to have quality of life and not be sick all the time from chemo. So he asked his oncologist, Dr. Nicholas G. Avgeropulos, about the trial. His doctor told him that for quality of life, he recommended the trial.
Mr. Welhoelter says he ended up on the "control arm" of the trial, meaning he had to take chemo for a year first for the sake of comparison, to see which therapy did better. Halfway through the trial, the device was doing so well he was able to switch to Optune in February 2015.
"I am extremely fortunate," he said. "There are a reasonable number of people doing well with this device. I can continue to do the things I enjoy, work in the yard, work with my hands, lift weights. And I still mentor people at work."
He was an engineer, then a manager for Siemens-Westinghouse. He traveled around the world in that capacity. He and his wife have two daughters, Karli, 24, and Courtney, 20. When their daughters are out on their own, the couple, who celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on May 18th, plan to continue traveling.
While it is common for couples married that long to have much in common, cancer is a bit out of the ordinary. Ms. Welhoelter had a stage four melanoma that metastasized to her left lung. She had surgery to remove the upper lobe of that lung, and has been cancer free for six years. She said it took her about two years to "get back in shape."
As they celebrated their anniversary, the couple, both in their 50s, the occasion was especially joyous.
Mr. Welhoelter is qualified to speak to other people dealing with the same cancer and considering the Optune device, which is especially effective on the GBM cancer, preventing recurring tumors.
"What I'm trying to do is give back," he said. "I'm trying to provide some level of encouragement. I've made it well past the deadlines. I hope to be one of those people who is cured."
Ms. Welhoelter also "gives back." She raises puppies for Canine Companions for Independence. One of the dogs, Janie, was a constant companion for her husband during chemo, staying by his side and even bringing him her own blanket.
The couple has "downsized" since retiring, moving from Orlando to Ponce Inlet to be near the beach.
"We are very positive people," Mr. Welhoelter said. "We do a good job of supporting each other. We're just happy when we wake up every morning."