Elizabeth Somers wants everyone to know about meningiomas. This tumor of the central nervous system begins in the coverings that surround the brain or spinal cord and is the most common type of intracranial brain tumor. Most meningiomas are slow-growing and can go undetected for years.
Elizabeth’s baseball-sized tumor was not cancerous, but it became life-threatening, and even altered how she smells and tastes. Thanks to the care she received at MD Anderson, she has her health back.
Symptoms lead to meningioma diagnosis
Elizabeth started noticing symptoms six months before she underwent surgery at MD Anderson.
“There were days I would be in bed with a severe headache and nausea,” she says. “I felt so sick I could not eat or drink. The first time this happened, I thought I had a 24-hour stomach bug because my stomach pain was so strong.”
A month later, it happened again. Elizabeth attributed it to indulging in rich foods over the holidays. She decided to cut out dairy, alcohol, wheat and sugar. “I even started buying makeup and shampoo that was chemical-free,” Elizabeth says. “I was over being sick.”
But nothing worked. Elizabeth confided in her family friend, who happens to be a hospitalist. He referred her to a gastroenterologist in Atlanta.
The gastroenterologist scheduled a CT scan of Elizabeth’s brain and abdomen. The results showed a baseball-sized tumor behind Elizabeth’s right eye. MRI results confirmed that she had a very large meningioma. A family friend and local neurosurgeon told Elizabeth to go straight to MD Anderson to see neurosurgeon Franco DeMonte, M.D.
“The local neurosurgeon described Dr. DeMonte as ‘the best surgeon in the country’ for my type of tumor, especially for the location it was in,” she says. “I knew that’s where I had to go.”
Preparing for the unknown of a craniotomy
In early June 2019, Elizabeth and her husband, Kirk, arrived at MD Anderson. She remembers how professional and efficient everyone was. DeMonte reviewed her treatment plan: Elizabeth would undergo a type of brain surgery called a craniotomy
Elizabeth flew back home to Atlanta with a lot on her mind. DeMonte had informed her that after the surgery, she would most likely lose her sense of smell. Because the tumor was so large, it had destroyed one of her olfactory bulbs, which helps the brain receive information about smell. And depending on what DeMonte found during surgery, the other bulb could be at risk or potentially unsalvageable.
“I went home and wrote everything down in a journal so I would remember certain smells,” Elizabeth says. “I wore perfume, I lit candles and I went out to a nice dinner. I wanted to savor everything up until the last minute. It was like I was in mourning.”
Undergoing a craniotomy and recovering from brain surgery
DeMonte performed Elizabeth’s 12-hour surgery on June 13, 2019. After coming out of surgery, she learned that DeMonte was able to save her other olfactory bulb.
“I can’t smell everything, but I do have a unique sense of taste and smell,” Elizabeth says. “What’s important to me is that Dr. DeMonte chose to take my well-being into account, and he saved it. It meant a lot to me.”
After surgery, Elizabeth recovered at MD Anderson for almost a week. She also had everyone from her care team sign a baseball as a memento from her time at MD Anderson. Elizabeth keeps it on display in her home as a reminder of what she has overcome. She hit a home run with her care team.
She traveled back to Georgia and continued to heal over the next three months. Some of her side effects included facial swelling and not being able to see very well. She describes her eyesight as “wonky” and that she did not have good depth perception. She also relied heavily on her “home team” for assistance during recovery.
“Before the surgery, I reached out to family and friends who would be able to help,” Elizabeth says. “And to keep with the baseball theme, I had ‘home’ and ‘away” teams. The away team came to Houston and looked out for my family. And when I was home, I would have someone who could assist me while Kirk was at work.”
The tumor had wreaked havoc on Elizabeth’s body longer than she had anticipated. After healing from the surgery, she learned that she no longer had hypothyroidism. For the first time in eight years, she found the strength and energy she forgot she had. Activities she enjoyed, including snow skiing, used to make her tired. But now, she can be found on the slopes again.
Elizabeth returns to see DeMonte every year. She has an almond-sized meningioma in the back of her head, but it has not grown in two years. DeMonte and his team will continue to monitor it, but they do not have any concerns at this time.
“While it might be more convenient to see someone in Atlanta, I would rather visit Dr. DeMonte once a year,” Elizabeth says. “The care I received at MD Anderson is unmatched. Not only are they striking out cancer; they’re also striking out brain tumors like mine.”