My Brain Tumor
I am a healthy, active person, but in 2016, I began to experience abnormal headaches. I have migraines about once a year and can manage them naturally, but over the course of six months, I experienced 15 migraines. As a neurologist, I knew that these were atypical headaches. Although I was feeling fine and maintained my usual level of activity, the headaches progressed in severity and frequency until I could no longer ignore my body’s message.
After a few frustrating mishaps in the medical world that delayed a useful diagnostic workup, a doctor finally ordered my brain MRI. After the study, I was instructed to head to the ER without further information despite repeatedly asking for answers. In the ER, no one knew why I was there, but they placed me in an exam room where I waited for 30 minutes.
Finally, an ER physician came in and opened his laptop displaying my MRI results. As a neurologist I review scans every day, and I immediately noticed the immense swelling. My first thought? It’s a terminal diagnosis. Fortunately, as my husband and I scrolled through the images of the scan, it revealed a very large and circumscribed tumor arising from the lining of the brain that was pushing down on my left hemisphere. This created a swelling and mass effect, which means my brain was being pulled to the right side. It was a wonder to all in the room that I had not experienced any seizures or neurologic deficits. But my life changed in that moment.
Two days later, I was admitted for a cerebral angiogram, a test that injects dye into the vessels of my brain so the tumor can be identified. The problem vessel was the middle meningeal artery, which had to be embolized to minimize the bleeding during neurosurgery planned for the next day. The five-hour-long surgery required a complete craniotomy, which places a cut over the top of the head from ear to ear. Since the tumor had collapsed the front portion of my sagittal sinus, one of the sinuses in the brain that collects and drains blood and attached to my left frontal lobe, it required extra care to remove. Fortunately, the surgery was deemed a gross total resection and a success.
Pathology revealed an overall benign pattern, but chromosomal testing revealed risk factors for recurrence, which classified my tumor as an atypical meningioma, versus a typical one and was graded as II/III. Since this brings a slightly higher chance of recurrence, I will be scanned every six months for the next three years.
I was in the hospital for four days, and it was no walk in the park! During that time, I encountered poor communication, inaccurate reports, erroneous knowledge, and overall lack of cohesive care. While some hospital personnel were wonderful and competent, there were many mistakes along my journey. Fortunately, I was able to identify and correct these mistakes because I am a physician, but I often wondered about how non-physicians navigate our healthcare system.
A year and a half later, I had recurrence of tumor and had to undergo radiation. Follow up scans since that time show persistent tumor and recently some likely new, but slow, growth as well as radiation after effects. But I continue to function at high levels and have energy as I did when I was a much younger physician. I practice what I preach and feel strongly about the potential to harness natural healing power – with a little bit of help.
In retrospect, I am certain this experience makes me a better physician, as I realized a patient knows their body better than I do. I start from a place of trust and belief.