Above: Sunnybrook neurosurgeon Dr. Victor Yang. Below: Marina shares her first-person story.
May is Brain Tumour Awareness Month. I’m not sure I would have known this had I not undergone an experience in the past year that has changed my life, and made me rethink how I live it.
I was experiencing numbness on the left side of my head and arm, and was sent for a CT scan at North York General Hospital. The results showed a large growth and I had to go to a hospital that had a specialty in neurology.
On August 25, 2016, I was sent to Sunnybrook’s Emergency Department. I met with Dr. Victor Yang, a neurosurgeon, who informed me that I had a meningioma tumour behind my left ear, essentially a ‘low-grade’ growth. Mine was large and could have been growing for the last 10-15 years.
Meningiomas grow from the meninges, the layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. As they grow, meningiomas can compress nearby brain tissue, cranial nerves and blood vessels. These tumours are 2-3 times more common in women compared to men.
I was in hospital for five days but found out I was not in critical condition so I could wait until October 3 for surgery unless I had any major symptoms.
My first reaction was: get it out of me! Then: how could this happen to me? I’d had no warning signs — unless you count what I like to call ‘mental pause’: the spaciness and forgetfulness that often accompanies menopause. I’d dealt with that, but so had other women I knew. I did some limited reading up online, sticking only to trusted sources like the Mayo Clinic. I discovered that many people have small meningioma tumours that are found incidentally during x-rays for other reasons. Most are small and need only be monitored, not necessarily removed.
Unfortunately, mine was not one of them. Regardless, I made a firm, conscious decision to remain positive. I would share the news with friends and work colleagues, and would set up a system to keep them informed.
It couldn’t come soon enough. I reminded myself that Dr. Yang and his team knew what they were doing.
At 8 am on October 3, I was on the operating table. I wouldn’t leave it for nine hours. I was groggy and quite out of it for a good couple of days following the surgery. By Wednesday, October 5, however, I was pretty much fully cognitive — certainly enough to appreciate my beautiful new ‘haircut’ and the 40 staples forming a question mark down the left side of my head.
It has now been almost eight months since the 95% removal of the tumour, thanks to Dr. Yang, Dr. Witiw and the entire team. Much of life is back to normal — I’m working again and have travelled a couple of times — however, I know I still have more recovery ahead of me. I tire easily, and get frustrated and impatient with my progress. (I’ll pause here to thank the now-retired June Warenycia, assistant to Dr. Yang, for putting up with my many emails — June, you saved me). I also know, however, that I’ve been fortunate in both my diagnosis and the quality of my care.
I would like to ensure more research is done for the meningiomas tumours. Education about these types of tumours would be helpful to patients and their families.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of it all is that I now know how prevalent meningioma is among adults — and I understand the fear of facing it. For anyone else contending with it, I hope my experience offers comfort, and helps give you strength.
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