Meet Our Survivors: Tarra Stavinoha
"It's not what we expected. You have a huge tumor”
In September 2017, 28-year-old Tarra Stavinoha from Richmond, Texas, suddenly lost her voice. She blamed it on pregnancy-related acid reflux. Her doctor believed that her voice would return after her pregnancy. In mid-October, Tarra delivered a healthy baby girl. Within the following week, she developed a lazy right eye. The lazy eye caused double vision which was temporarily fixed by wearing an eye patch.
“I couldn’t drive if I didn’t wear an eye patch,” Tarra recalls. “I had double
As a result, she quit driving. With her voice still gone and change in eye vision, she knew it was best to visit her primary care doctor. Consequently, her doctor requested Tarra undergo an MRI. On November 3, 2017, Tarra’s family doctor called to inform her that the MRI results indicated that there was a tumor inside her head that was causing all the side effects.
“It’s not what we expected. You have a huge tumor,” Tarra’s family doctor said.
After hearing her doctor utter those words, Tarra went from being in shock to asking what the next step would be to beat cancer. The young mother was determined to beat cancer.
“Here I am. I just gave birth, trying to care for my newborn baby and have two more girls to take care of,” Tarra shared.
“Removing my inner ear ruined my equilibrium. I had to re-learn how to walk”
A few weeks later, Tarra underwent a 14-hour surgery to remove her tumor — a skull-based chondrosarcoma — that covered a large portion of her right ear. As a result, doctors had to remove her inner ear causing permanent hearing loss of the right ear.
Doctors explained that it might take a few weeks for her to gain her equilibrium.
“I have three girls I need to go home to so let’s do this,” Tarra told doctors.
After a few sessions of physical therapy, she began walking on her own in no time. She was out of the hospital in three days. Her doctors couldn’t believe how well and quickly she recovered. Others usually experience vomiting, dizziness and other side effects.
Keeping normalcy for daughters
After her surgery, doctors explained that the tumor was also wrapped around her optical nerve which caused her lazy eye. Fortunately, her eye corrected itself after surgery.
When Tarra learned of her diagnosis, she and her husband decided to not share that information with their two daughters, 10 and 7 years old.
“I didn’t want them to be scared thinking something was going to happen to their mom,” Tarra shared. “So, we told our daughters that they were going to fix my eye and voice.”
“Proton therapy is so precise that it hit my tumor and did not damage anything else”
In late January 2018, Tarra had another surgery to remove the remaining tumor. However, a small portion of the tumor was located next to her carotid artery. Therefore, doctors recommended proton therapy to precisely target the residual tumor protecting the surrounding healthy tissue.
“Proton therapy is so precise that it hit my tumor and did not damage anything else,” Tarra explained.
She completed a total of 35 proton therapy treatments. After completing proton therapy, Tarra’s voice returned.
“I truly believe proton therapy helped me gain my voice back,” Tarra said.
She is thankful to all of the doctors and staff at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. “I don’t know if they realize what they mean to us patients. We appreciate them. We thank them every day in our prayers. Because of them, I am able to be a mom,” Tarra shared.
Now, Tarra is enjoying raising her daughters and attending cheerleading and ice-skating activities.
I truly believe proton therapy helped me gain my voice back.
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