Savvy Gal Spotlight: Knowing the Symptoms of a Brain Tumor

“It was a big shock,” says Gloria Harden when asked about her diagnosis. Harden was told that she had a large tumor in her brain after seeing her doctor for vertigo, dizziness and loss of balance. “I was very disturbed by my symptoms,” she says, “and I couldn’t remember things. My family thought I had Alzheimer’s.” But she went with her instincts and had her symptoms checked out by her primary care physician.

It is not unusual to confuse the symptoms of a brain tumor with another disease or common affliction, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. The symptoms will also vary by the tumor’s location on the brain. Headaches are usually the first to appear and then people may have changes in their mentality or symptoms related to increased intracranial pressure, like Harden. She explains, “I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know what they would find after the MRI.”
Brain Tumor Symptoms:

·      Headaches

·      Seizures

·      Personality Change

·      Increased Intracranial Pressure

Facts About Brain Tumors:

·      The likelihood of developing a tumor increases steadily with age

·      An estimated 62,930 cases of brain tumors will be diagnosed in 2010

·      Brain tumors are the second-leading cause of death in men under age 40

·      Brain tumors are the second-leading cause of death in women under age 20

What to do If You Have a Brain Tumor:

·      After the initial brain scans, further testing will be necessary (depending on the specific location of the tumor)

·      Ask questions; find out where the tumor is located, what treatment will be needed, etc.

·      Allow close friends or family to accompany you on your doctor visits

·      Know the risks involved with any procedure to make an educated decision about your course of action

A “Peaceful” Diagnosis

“The doctor called me in to show me the results and he just said ‘Okay, here’s what we have.’ I looked up and all I saw was that big white tumor,” she recalls. “But I just felt so at peace about it. Serenity came right over me.” Harden was told that she needed to see a brain surgeon and her primary care doctor put everything in place. “I didn’t have to do anything. My doctor said he had a friend in neurosurgery so I knew I would be in good hands.”

David McKalip, M.D. was the neurosurgeon who would remove her tumor. “I’m glad I met him,” Harden says, “I’m glad that he was my doctor. He was so calm and that made me calm.” McKalip removed the large tumor that had grown attached to some of the vessels in Harden’s brain. “Due to the invasiveness of the procedure,” McKalip explains, “Gloria had a number of risks: memory loss, painful headaches, nausea or a cancer diagnosis, just to name a few.”

But according to Harden, she never had a problem. “I woke-up and felt better than I had in years. No headache, no nausea; I didn’t even need pain medication.”

The Short Road to Recovery

Harden had brain surgery and left the hospital four days later. “I never got down about it and I think that’s how I recovered so quickly. I stayed positive from the moment I saw that tumor,” she says. Harden was lucky; the tumor in her brain was not cancerous but that doesn’t make it harmless. According to Harden, the tumor affected every aspect of her life. She went from an active senior to “not wanting to do anything at all.”

“It is common with brain tumor patients to experience drastic physical and mental changes like Gloria. But because most brain tumors occur in late adulthood, even the tumor patients themselves can mistakenly attribute them to the natural process of aging,” explains McKalip. “Gloria’s personality really came back after the procedure. We all noticed the change.”Harden attributes her positivity and quick recovery to her active lifestyle. She is now back to her old self, walking two miles every day. “I just looked forward to being me again. I didn’t have one negative experience the whole time. I never wanted it to happen but it’s all about mindset.”

Seeing Things the Positive Way

Harden is a fighter who loves life. “Everyone has their battles. I still have battles, even now,” she says. “My motivation was to get back to the way I was before. Everyone was amazed at how quickly I recovered but I knew I wouldn’t be in there for as long as they thought.” Gloria still rolls her eyes thinking about how the hospital staff told her she would need therapy.

“I’m living so much better now. I don’t have any restrictions!” Harden calls her experience “a spiritual journey.” And now, she wants to help people that are in the same situation that she was in. “I feel a connection with people now, when they’re going through what I went through. I go to them and make sure they’re OK.”

Her story comes at the perfect time for Brain Tumor Awareness Month. She wants to remind people to check with their doctors if things don’t seem right because it might not be a factor associated with normal aging; she also wants people to “love life and be at peace”- just like her.

Additional resources gathered from: the American Brain Tumor Association

About Dr. McKalip: David McKalip, M.D. is a Board-Certified Neurological Surgeon of the brain and spine. He has served as the President of the Florida Neurosurgical Society and on the Quality Improvement Committee of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and currently serves on the board of the Florida Medical Association. His practice is located at 1201 5th Avenue North, Suite 210 in St. Petersburg, FL. For more information about Dr. McKalip, contact him at (727) 822-3500 or visit www.mckalip.yourmd.com
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