27-year-old brain tumor survivor thanks Austin doctor for ‘miracle’ surgery

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In January, Samantha Wilson, a Whitney resident and mother of seven, wasn’t feeling right — excruciating migraines made it hard for her to function, she’d lost an unusual amount of weight and she was blacking out.

Samantha, 27, says she decided to go to a doctor who informed her that she had a massive brain tumor, that nothing could be done about it and she should “say goodbye to her family.”

“Part of me was definitely scared,” Samantha says. “But I was more mad at the fact of how doctor[s] acted. They told me there was nothing they could do and that I would be dead in a month.”

She says her children — the youngest age 3 and oldest age 10 —  were the top of her concerns. 

“I started thinking: am I going to be able to see my kids grow up?” 

But Samantha didn’t take the doctors “very rude” and “non-chalant” advice as fact.

She says after bouncing around, she was finally referred to Dr. Ramsey Ashour, a neurosurgeon at Ascension Seton. 

But although Ashour was a seasoned doctor with nearly 12 years of experience, he says Samantha’s case was particularly dangerous.

“She had a very large tumor in a tight space,” Dr. Ashour says. “When they’re in the back of the brain, as hers was, they’re pushing against the brain stem. This is the kind of surgery you’re thinking about the night before. You want to bring your A-game.”

Dr. Ashour says that the tumor in Samantha’s brain measured about five centimeters and was not — as many might think — just one big ball. Instead, Ashour says, tumors can be smaller pieces in different parts of the brain and require careful work to get them out.

“I knew it was going to be a big deal,” says Ashour. “Even just opening up the brain is complicated. You’re dealing with swelling — the brain will kind of want to pooch out of the skull. To make sure this doesn’t happen, it requires releasing fluid and relaxing the brain.”

Any wrong move could have caused irreparable damage to Samantha’s functions, or even her life. 

During surgery, Samantha says she was completely unconscious and remembers nothing. When she woke up, she says Dr. Ashour was there to reassure her.

Dr. Ashour says the tumor Samantha had was a rare kind, known as an “epidermoid.” According to the doctor, her body was concentrating cells (similar to skin cells) and they got trapped in her brain. He says it’s possible that she even may have been born with these cells and that they might have just compounded over time.

Samantha’s recovery time was incredible, considering the extent of the surgery, Dr. Ashour says. Within three weeks, she was up and walking, back to normal. She says her only real symptom and after-effect of the surgery is a slight loss of balance.

Dr. Ashour calls Samantha’s recovery “a bit of a miracle.” 

Samantha suddenly found her life back to normal after a months-long nightmare — and she thanks Dr. Ashour for giving her this gift.

“He made it possible to be with my babies,” she says. 

Now healed, Samantha gets MRI scans every three months. If all is well, she will return for MRIs every six months, then nine months, then a yearly exam. 

She also has advice for others going through the same situation.

“As scary as it seems, you gotta trust your doctor. Do your part. Stay healthy. Make sure you’re getting annual checkups. If you don’t feel comfortable, find someone who does make you feel comfortable.” 

Samantha recently celebrated a huge milestone in her recovery — her first haircut since surgery. 

Brain Tumor Awareness Month

June is Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and according to both Samantha and Dr. Ashour, it’s important for everyone to understand how their brain health is going.

Dr. Ashour says that signs/symptoms of brain tumor growth can include:

  • New headaches as an adult — headaches that seem different than others you might usually have
  • problems with speech
  • numbness in legs

The doctor says, however, that symptoms of brain tumors can mimic other conditions, like stroke or glaucoma. So it’s not always a correct assumption that head pain is a brain tumor.

Despite a need for brain tumor awareness, Dr. Ashour says he does not recommend getting regular, preventative brain scans unless there is pain or symptoms. “That can lead to unnecessary work and, worse: incidental, accidental findings that may turn out to be nothing.”

According to Dr. Ashour, there are over 100 types of tumors and there are even categories within those types. He says every patient is different and requires different treatment. 

For more information, click here for the National Cancer Institute’s Brain Tumor Awareness Month guide.

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