Acoustic neuroma survivor resumes life after Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery
I woke up one morning and noticed I was having trouble hearing in my left ear. I also had a loud ringing in that ear. I made an appointment with a local ENT, who performed an MRI.
That’s how I was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor in my left ear. Once this skull base tumor was discovered in April 2019, I decided to call MD Anderson to set up an appointment. My sister-in-law works at MD Anderson, and I knew that if I was going to tackle this aggressively, I needed the best team available.
I was quickly seen by neuro-otologist Dr. Paul Gidley and neurosurgeon Dr. Franco DeMonte, both of whom specialize in acoustic neuroma. They did an amazing job of explaining my options, what to expect and how to move forward. We first decided to watch and wait for six months. However, since the tumor continued to grow, after three months my care team decided it was time for surgery.
I had multiple visits with my doctors to go through how the surgery would work. I am a visual person, so they walked through each MRI with me to make sure I knew what they were going to do.
The benefits of Gamma Knife® surgery
On Sept. 24, 2019, Drs. Gidley and DeMonte performed the surgery. They discovered the tumor would be impossible to remove without excessively increasing my risk for hearing and facial paralysis.
Since the tumor had been growing, my care team recommended I undergo Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery. This is a minimally invasive procedure that kills tumor cells with highly focused, targeted radiation. It’s performed during a single appointment. Unlike traditional surgery, it uses multiple cobalt-60 sources of gamma ray radiation to target the tumor precisely with rapid dose fall-off, so it’s less likely to kill healthy cells.
My Gamma Knife radiosurgery
I went through Gamma Knife radiosurgery on Nov. 25, 2019. My radiation oncologist, Dr. Mary Frances McAleer, made sure I understood everything and was comfortable with the plan. On the day of my Gamma Knife radiosurgery, she came to see me multiple times and explained what the team -- including medical physicists, nurses, radiation therapists and physicians -- were doing and what I should expect next.
My nurses were amazing. The thought of having a frame affixed to my head with titanium screws was scary, but they made me very comfortable. To prepare for the treatment, Dr. DeMonte numbed my head with a local anesthetic for the frame placement. Once I had the frame on my head, it felt like wearing a tight head wrap. The Gamma Knife treatment itself was simple, and I even got to listen to music during the procedure.
Although I was disappointed when I found out that my tumor was not removed during the initial surgery, I am happy my care team was experienced enough to know that it was best not to remove it. I have since recommended Gamma Knife radiosurgery to many people in the acoustic neuroma support groups in which I’m involved.
Life after my Gamma Knife radiosurgery
After my Gamma Knife radiosurgery, I went home and took a nap. I had a slight headache but nothing awful. I took one more day to rest and then returned to work.
It took a couple of months for me to regain my balance due to inflammation of my inner ear where the tumor is located, so I used a cane for a little while. I also wear a hearing aid now to help me hear on my left side. But overall, I lead a very normal life now.
I understand how difficult getting through surgeries is and how long it takes your brain to recover from the trauma. I’m happy to be here and happy that I had an amazing team of doctors. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, look for an excellent team like I did when choosing your treatment. The staff at MD Anderson are experts for a reason. That’s why I’m glad I trusted them with my care.