Carolyn Gentry is a 12-year brain tumor survivor. She went through two invasive surgeries and radiosurgery treatment over the course of nearly four years before being declared tumor-free. She credits her faith, family and the care she received at MD Anderson for her survival. Now, she gets to enjoy retirement.
In 2000, just two years after I retired, I was on an overnight shopping trip to Atlanta and became nauseated and disoriented. My two friends took me to a hospital and that's where my saga began.
In the ER I had a CAT scan and was told there was "something" going on in my brain and I needed to have an MRI. The results: a large meningioma, the most common primary brain tumor.
After the shock of my diagnosis, my husband, Don, son, Buck, and friends began researching brain tumor care centers. We discovered neurosurgeon Ian McCutcheon, M.D., at MD Anderson Cancer Center. From the first time that we met him, there was no doubt I was in the right place.
My diagnosis by Dr. McCutcheon was a benign (non-cancerous) intracranial tumor called a falcotentorial meningioma. Since I was functioning well, the tumor did not require any immediate treatment. Dr. McCutcheon's plan was to watch the tumor. I was scheduled to have an MRI every six months and if the tumor grew, then we would discuss surgery.
In the meantime, Don asked what we could do to prepare if I were to have surgery. "Get in good physical shape," Dr. McCutcheon said. Don and I began an exercise program, which we still do.
Surgery: the third time's a charm
In 2004, I became concerned about a new onset of symptoms: severely impaired balance and fogginess -- worsening vision and short-term memory. Imaging showed that my tumor had grown, so we decided to proceed with surgery.
The surgery lasted nine hours and a large portion of the tumor was removed; the remaining portion would be watched. When I awoke, it was like a miracle. I could think and even see well. I did not have to undergo physical therapy because I was in good shape.
A year later, the small portion of my tumor that remained had grown significantly. Dr. McCutcheon conducted a second surgery that lasted 12 hours. It was a great success -- he removed 98% of the tumor -- and yet again, I did not have to undergo physical therapy. (Two surgeries were necessary as two entries were required to reach the entire tumor, while not disturbing healthy tissue and functions.)
Since my tumors had a propensity to recur, Dr. McCutcheon referred me for radiosurgery, a non-invasive radiation treatment. In 2006, I underwent radiosurgery to take care of the "nubbin," as Dr. McCutcheon called it.
Throughout my treatments at MD Anderson, I was given perfect care by Dr. McCutcheon, advance practice nurse Paula DeMasi and other staff members. I was not anxious about the surgeries, but instead felt at peace.
After my first surgery, I had a reaction to the anesthetic. Many of the staff came in and out to check on me and the next day they came by my room checking again, "just to be sure."
In addition, during my care touches of humor helped a lot. For example, when asked where I was after my first surgery, I answered, "My sheets say MD Anderson." The nurse responded, "Make note ... change question." At this point, we realized that we were probably the luckiest people in the hospital.
Even the staff at the restaurants and bars that my husband frequented kept up with my progress. Their service was certainly a mood elevator for Don. It goes to show, everyone at MD Anderson shares the good and the bad.
Bye-bye tumor, on with life
In May 2012, my MRI was, as described by Ms. DeMasi, "gorgeous."
My advice to anyone having surgery or treatments: do your homework to find the right doctor and then do what he says.
My retirement is now filled with family, entertaining and taking care of friends, volunteering and being thankful.
MD Anderson is truly a unique place.