Melinda Greathouse, a sunny 36-year-old resident of Charleston, West Virginia, was fourteen weeks into recovery from quintuple bypass surgery following a widow-maker heart attack when her balance issues and tinnitus started to worsen, and she was sent for a hearing test. An MRI was ordered shortly after by her ENT doctor, and the results were shocking: she had a benign brain tumor. It was an Acoustic Neuroma; a noncancerous tumor on the eighth cranial nerve.
Acoustic Neuroma (also referred to as Vestibular Schwannomas) is a rare tumor with fewer than 20k cases a year. The exact cause of Acoustic Neuromas isn’t clear, most cases seem to arise spontaneously (https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/acoustic-neuroma/). Potential risk factors have been studied and involve prolonged or sustained exposure to loud noises or prior exposure to radiation in the head and neck area. Research is underway to determine exact causes.
Adjusting to her ‘new normal’ after heart surgery hadn’t been easy for Melinda, but in the face of this new struggle, she moved valiantly forward, undeterred, and sought treatment at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Acoustic Neuromas can be managed through a combination of radiation and surgery. Although Melinda’s tumor was benign, it was pressing on her brain stem and was too large to be managed by radiation. It was determined that the tumor would be removed via the retro-sigmoid approach. The retro-sigmoid approach or sometimes referred to as “key-hole craniotomy” is a minimally Invasive craniotomy via a small incision behind the ear, providing access to the cerebellum and brainstem allowing the surgeon to use microsurgical tools under a microscope offering a faster recovery time, less pain and minimal scarring as opposed to an open craniotomy. (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/brain_tumor/treatment )
Through this difficult process, Melinda was hopeful but honest. In a post, shortly before her surgery, she admitted that despite her optimistic attitude, she was afraid “the fear doesn’t have to control me. It doesn’t have to ruin the weeks I have left until surgery. I can be afraid and still believe everything is going to be ok. Just remember, just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.”.
The surgery was successful in that the tumor was removed, but Melinda suffered some nerve damage during the procedure, resulting in drooping on the right side of her face, vertigo, and reduced vision in her right eye.
A few weeks after her initial procedure, Melinda had short outpatient surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to install a weight in her right eyelid. This allowed the eye to close and could be easily removed if the nerve heals fully.
However, this was not the end of the story. During her recovery, Melinda started to experience serious headaches and was admitted to CAMC general. The cause was determined to be a cerebrospinal fluid leak (CSF Leak), caused by a defect or weakness in the dura of the brain. It presented a heart–wrenching decision for Melinda; shortly before the leak was discovered, Melinda’s father passed away suddenly. She needed the leak repaired by The Cleveland Clinic, but traveling there would mean missing her father’s funeral. In the end, Melinda made the difficult call to prioritize her health and made another trip to the Cleveland clinic to have stitches put in, and then to have another procedure to repair the leak permanently.
This journey is unimaginable for most people, but Melinda has one thing that is essential to recovery: a good attitude. Not to mention, a great support system! Melinda’s husband Brian has been by her side and even learned how to administer the patient’s IV medication so that she could recover more comfortably at home.
It’s difficult to be open about your struggle, but it can mean the world to others who are going through a difficult time. Melinda admits, not everyone in good health wants to see posts about her condition and her everyday struggles, but she’s not doing it for them. “If I can help even one person by being vulnerable and speaking my truth, even when it’s messy and ugly, then it’s worth the risk”.
Melinda still struggles daily in her recovery, but she still considers herself lucky “Despite all the big, scary, and sad things that have happened this year, we’ve been so lucky in so many ways. I’m still alive today to post this.”
Melinda’s positivity is contagious, and her spirit is unwavering. She has overcome the odds with grace, honesty, and determination. we are so lucky to have a such a spirit around us, to inspire us and show us that no matter what, there is always something to be thankful for.
You can follow Melinda and her journey on Instagram @melionthemend
National Brain Tumor Society unrelentingly invests in, mobilizes, and unites our community to discover a cure, deliver effective treatments, and advocate for patients and care partners. Your support is critical in the fight to defeat this underfunded disease. Wherever you live and however you can get involved, there are many ways to help!
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