BROOKLINE — David Feldman, 55, looks to be the picture of health as he plays tennis with his son in the semi-finals of his bracket of the 2022 United States Tennis Association National Father-Son Grass Court Championships.
But Feldman has glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, and he will undergo surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Wednesday to remove a new growth. He is dedicated to going as far as he can in the tournament before the surgery, and on Tuesday, he said there is no place he would rather be than on the courts at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline with his family.
“One of the things you learn when you’re facing glioblastoma is you don’t think too hard about it, and you take the days as they are,” he said. “If we get to play father-son tennis, let’s go play father-son tennis.”
Father-son tennis is not where Feldman’s doctors initially would have predicted he would be 18 months after his diagnosis, said his wife, the renowned sculptor and artist Janet Echelman, 56.
The median survival for the cancer is 11 to 18 months, and the cancer is rarely cured. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John McCain, and Beau Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, all died of the cancer.
Feldman was diagnosed at the end of December 2020. He noticed a change in his peripheral vision and called his cousin, a doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess, who told him to go to a hospital equipped to provide a high level of care immediately. The family, which was residing in Florida at the time, drove an hour to Tampa General Hospital’s emergency room. There, doctors discovered Feldman had a large mass in his skull that could kill him. After a day of running tests, doctors operated on Feldman on Dec. 31.
Since then, Feldman has been working with doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, engaging in experimental treatments and doing all he can to stay healthy. The tumor is his first recurrence of the cancer, he said.
The cancer does not cause him pain, as there are no pain receptors in the brain itself, and he does not have other symptoms. He said his surgeon told him, “You can play [Tuesday] — just don’t get dehydrated, then come see us on Wednesday.”
The family has been a “tennis family” since Sam Feldman, 19, began playing at age eight. Sam now plays for Brown University, where he’s a rising sophomore. The older Feldman hasn’t had the chance to play with his son in the father-son tournament since Sam was 10, since in the years after, there were always national singles tournaments that overlapped.
Though the pair made it to the semi-finals of the back-draw bracket, where competitors are moved if they lose their initial matches, Feldman will not play Wednesday as he said he wants to get in the right mindset for surgery. He cannot have anything to eat or drink before going under general anesthesia — which isn’t conducive to playing tennis.
The Feldmans almost didn’t get to play in the semi-finals round.
One of their opponents had heatstroke. But after hearing about Feldman’s unusual circumstances, their opponents, longtime family friends, Howard Schwartz, 56, and his son, David, 19, rushed over to play.
Marie Collyer, a tournament referee, helped set up a special match on the courts where the club players usually play. The match would be just for fun as Feldman planned to forfeit, since his surgery would prevent him from advancing beyond Tuesday.
The semi-finals round was also special for its pairing.
The Feldmans competed against Howard Schwartz, 56, and Zach Schwartz, 19. Zach and Sam grew up playing against each other.
“It’s kismet,” Echelman said.
Kate Selig was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow her on Twitter @kate_selig.