Hip-Hop group TLC‘s Tionne Watkins, AKA T-Boz, has been keeping a secret. She had been treated for a benign brain tumor for three years. Watkins, who also suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia (to be discussed in Part 2) began to have headaches over a six year period. As she told People magazine: “Because of my sickle-cell disease, I have a high tolerance for pain. By 2006, I’d had headaches for six years. I thought it was stress. But when my vision went blurry, I got an MRI.” That test revealed an acoustic neuroma, a benign brain tumor, which can nevertheless cause problems as the mass grows in size and pushes on the nearby brain tissue. It took a seven hour procedure to remove the grapefruit-sized tumor. However, things did not go smoothly post-op:
“When I awoke,I could hear and I looked normal, but then I had a sickle-cell crisis.With the pain meds and steroids, they said I kept flopping and hitting my head. They gave me IV (intravenous) fluids in order to stop it.
“After I was released (from hospital) more than a week later, the ride to my Los Angeles apartment was like vertigo to the 10th power. I had to sit up in bed for two months. They propped me up, but I kept sliding down, which made my head swell. It was so painful. At one point, fluid poured out of my nose.
“I was readmitted (to hospital). I couldn’t walk or really see. I heard screeching noises. They said, ‘We may have to cut you open again…’ I prayed and the fluid stopped.”
These setbacks caused the singer to lose the ability to speak and walk, and required months of difficult physical and speech therapy. In March 09, T-Boz had recovered sufficiently to join the cast of Celebrity Apprentice, but declined to tell any of her fellow contestants about her health issues, explaining, “I didn’t want pity.”
An acoustic neuroma is a slow growing brain tumor which originates in the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. That nerve, called the eighth cranial nerve (or vestibulocochlear nerve) has 3 branches which transmits information from the inner ear to the brain. The cochlear branch carries sound. The superior and inferior vestibular branches carry information about balance.
The most common symptoms are vertigo (a spinning sensation), hearing loss, and ringing in the ear (tinnitus). Other symptoms include loss of balance, dizziness, difficulty understanding speech, numbness or pain in the face or one ear, vision problems, and headache. The headache is different from a migraine or tension headache in that it occurs upon waking, or can wake you from sleep. It can be made worse by either lying down or standing up, and also with coughing, straining or lifting. It can also be associated with nausea and vomiting.
Treatment options include surgery, radiation, or observation and monitoring. A newer procedure with a “Gamma knife” which uses radiofrequency waves, has shown great promise.
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