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January 18, 2023

Conquering a Brain Tumor and Embracing Life: Sebastien’s Story

by Brianna Rauchman

After a brain lesion affected his ability to walk, brain tumor survivor Sebastien defied the odds, inspiring thousands with his remarkable ‘Walk Across America’.  

A Star Is Born

Born in Canada in 1988, Sebastien Jacques lived an active childhood, rapidly discovering his affinity for tennis. His unparalleled speed and dexterity quickly propelled him into the tennis spotlight, his success a reflection of his unyielding spirit.  

2006. Sebastien, ranking as the No.1 junior tennis player in Canada, won both the indoor and outdoor 2006 Boys 18-under doubles Canadian national titles. The trajectory of his tennis career held irrefutable promise. 

Fast forward to 2007. Sebastien, just a teenager, beamed with pride on the heels of his record-breaking 11-3 season. After winning his match at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships, he appeared unstoppable.  

New Symptoms, No Answers 

From @iamsebjacques on Instagram

Sebastien received a tennis scholarship at Virginia Tech, and flourished in his new home. That is, until he began to feel weak. Very weak.

Concerned about his declining health, Sebastien scheduled an appointment with a local doctor, who discovered a small lesion deep in the brain. The doctor concluded that the tumor was not responsible for his symptoms, and Sebastien was left with seemingly no other options. 

And thus, Sebastien propelled forward through “four years of hell,” as he achingly recalls it. His once athletic body steadily deteriorated, as he struggled to walk even over very short distances in a parking lot without stopping for a break. Unfortunately, he was forced to abandon his tennis career.

With his health facing an imminent decline, he developed a cascade of new symptoms: foggy thinking, alarming dizzy spells, and an unexpected 30-pound weight loss. Clearly, this wasn’t a simple case of burnout. Sebastien knew he had to act, and act fast, to save his health and his life.  

I went from being number one in Canada as a tennis player in the juniors and a collegiate athlete at Virginia Tech to not being able to go for a simple walk because my legs were so weak…I was so skinny that people barely recognized me.

Sebastien Jacques

One Delicate Brain Surgery Later… 

Channeling his resolute spirit, Sebastien dove into online medical forums to search for answers. He soon connected with someone who had recovered after receiving brain tumor surgery from board-certified neurosurgeon, Daniel F. Kelly, MD. Following four years of suffering, Sebastien finally sensed a ray of hope at Pacific Neuroscience Institute® (PNI) in Santa Monica, California. Sebastien called Dr. Kelly and board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon, Garni Barkhoudarian, MD. They both reviewed his case and felt confident that they could treat him and help Sebastien recover his quality of life.

Jacques in wheelchair after brain surgery
From @iamsebjacques on Instagram

One phone call, and one intricate brain surgery later, and Sebastien was finally on the road to recovery.  

Throughout his formidable journey, Sebastien never lost hope. After three weeks of recovery in Santa Monica, he returned home to Canada. However, it wasn’t long until he relocated to Australia to pursue his traveling dreams, and to explore the islands in the South Pacific (all while working as a tennis coach, of course). 

A Not-so-Normal Return to Life 

As Sebastien embraced a return to normalcy, he began sharing his story as a brain tumor survivor. Soon after, a new phenomenon threw a wrench in his plans: fame. Evidently, strangers from across the globe discovered his story on the Internet, and they gleaned inspiration from his unyielding spirit and optimistic outlook. Surprised (but not shaken) by this sudden upheaval, Sebastien knew what he had to do next. Determined to continue inspiring others, Sebastien decided to get moving. 

From @iamsebjacques on Instagram

Step by step, Sebastien walked his story across the globe. He trailed from his hometown of Magog in Canada, to Virginia Tech, and then across America to finish in Santa Monica. Sebastien provided inspiration to thousands of international supporters, ultimately earning him a feature on Jared Leto’s film, A Day in the Life of America.  

As avid fans followed Sebastien’s walking journey – on social media and on the big screen – they reveled in his fiery passion. With every footstep, Sebastien left a trail of hope in his wake, motivating others to advocate for their health, and to persevere against all odds.  

There’s only one way to get through obstacles in life. To believe in oneself, to keep smiling, and to take it one day at a time, or in my case, one step at a time.

Sebastien Jacques
Dr. Daniel Kelly, Sebastien, and Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian

7 Million Steps Later

Six months after he began in Virginia Beach, Sebastien’s ‘Walk Across America’ reached a triumphant end as he was greeted by Dr. Barkhoudarian on the Santa Monica Pier by the Pacific Ocean in September 2017.

Just two years prior, Sebastien had feebly traversed the parking lot, and struggled to walk upstairs without a dizzy spell. 7 million steps later, he felt the ground firmly beneath his feet, and a promising path unfold before him.  

New Updates

Sebastien remains resolute in his endeavors, and in November 2022 was in Italy completing 47 marathons in 50 days! His mission is to raise $100,000 for the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation, which provides quality care for children in need, as well as support for their families.

Inspired by this story? Receive regular updates of Sebastien’s remarkable journey on his Instagram or Facebook.

For more information about the Pacific Brain Tumor Center at PNI-Santa Monica, call 310-582-7450.

About Dr. Daniel F. Kelly

Daniel F. Kelly, MD

Daniel F. Kelly, MD, a board-certified neurosurgeon, is the Director and one of the founders of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, Director of the Pacific Brain Tumor Center and Pacific Pituitary Disorders Center, and is Professor of Neurosurgery at Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. Considered to be one of the top neurosurgeons in the US, he has been awarded the Southern California SuperDoctors distinction 15 years in a row.

About Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, FAANS, is a board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon with a focus on skull base and minimally invasive endoscopic surgery. Dr. Barkhoudarian has particular interest and expertise in pituitary and parasellar tumors, brain tumors, skull-base tumors (including meningiomas, craniopharyngiomas, chordomas and schwannomas), intra-ventricular brain tumors, colloid cysts, trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm and other vascular compression syndromes.

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About the Author

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman, BA, is the Communications Coordinator for the Lifestyle Program, where she helps develop outreach strategies to connect with an expanding audience. Her responsibilities include providing launch support, developing content, assisting with collateral design, and planning social media strategies.

Last updated: January 27th, 2023