A mother-of-two who woke up with electric shock-like pain on the right side of her face has been shocked to learn of a brain tumour.
Andreea Vanacker, from Montreal, Canada, said the sensation appeared without warning one morning and hit every time she went to talk, laugh or even eat.
Doctors said the pain was caused by a large benign tumor inside his skull pressing on the nerve responsible for controlling facial muscles. They said his height suggested he had grown unnoticed for at least 10 years.
Ms Vanacker eventually had the tumor removed through surgery where doctors had to remove part of her skull and cut out her brain. They managed to remove the entire tumor, but she said it took her a year to regain her strength.
Andreea Vanacker, a mother of two from Montreal, Canada, has revealed how pain that felt like electric shocks on the right side of her face led her to be diagnosed with a brain tumour.
The above scans of his head show his brain before surgery when the tumor was present and after surgery when it was removed. During a nine-hour operation, doctors managed to completely cut out the tumor
Ms Vanacker, who is also CEO of management consultancy SPARKX5, was proud of her healthy lifestyle – avoiding alcohol, coffee, making sure she exercised regularly and got at least seven hours of sleep by night.
So it was a complete shock when she woke up one morning in July 2020 to feel a throbbing pain running down the right side of her face.
“I had always been healthy and had never experienced anything like this; I knew that was not good news,” she wrote for Insider.
“I mainly felt intense pain that felt like electric shocks on the right side of my face every time I moved my facial muscles.”
She booked an online consultation for the next day – in-person appointments were difficult at this stage due to the Covid pandemic – and saw a doctor who diagnosed her with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain triggering pain intense facial.
She was booked for a second appointment with a neurologist, but said that over the next few days the pain became so intense that she was even afraid of tensing her facial muscles.
She also began to suffer from balance issues, she said, which made it difficult to move around.
At her next appointment, doctors confirmed the diagnosis and said surgery was her only option to get rid of the tumor given its large size.
But they warned the surgery was risky and, in severe cases, could leave patients struggling with paralysis or balance issues for the rest of their lives.
“I was speechless,” she said. “(Me and my husband) have decided not to tell our children until we know more about the risks of the operation.”
She made appointments with several other neurologists, all of whom gave the same recommendation.
On the one hand, she showed an MRI she had had ten years ago to ask if the tumor was then present. They said it was but was much smaller which probably caused it to be missed.
The image above shows the back of his head through which they performed the day’s operation two to three weeks after the operation. The procedure involved removing part of his skull to access the tumor
Ms Vanacker said the diagnosis came as a complete shock, given her healthy lifestyle of avoiding alcohol, coffee, exercise and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.
After a long search, she chose to have surgery by the best neurologist in Montreal, whom she met for the first time in September 2020.
She described feeling ‘terrified’ as he described the surgery, which involved cutting out part of her skull and then cutting through brain tissue to reach the tumour.
But at 7am on November 9, 2020, Ms Vanacker went under the knife for a nine-hour operation to remove the entire tumour.
When she returned the next day, her neurologist came to say that the operation had been successful and the tumor had been removed.
“How are you feeling, and can you smile at me?” he asked.
She said: “Despite the immense pain I was in, I was able to smile. I couldn’t believe it.
“I learned that he had successfully removed the entire brain tumor without any damage to my facial nerve, and I was totally amazed – and relieved.”
She then described a long road to recovery involving multiple appointments with doctors and checkups with her neurosurgeon.
It took about two months before she started reducing her pain medication when the pain in the trigeminal nerve started to recede.
Five months after the operation, she was also allowed to do some light exercise again, before spending a year regaining her strength. His skull was still sore until about 18 months after the operation.
“It was one of the most difficult times of my life, and my husband and children helped me through it,” she said.
“All I want to do is live my life with joy and bring joy to others.”
Ms Vanacker shared her story to raise awareness of brain tumors and warn others of the warning signs of their presence.
An estimated 700,000 Americans live with a benign brain tumor, which is non-cancerous and does not spread to other organs.
But they can be slow-growing, which means symptoms take a long time to appear. Warning signs include headaches, blurred vision, loss of feeling or movement in a limb, and trouble with balance.
Doctors will normally opt for surgery to remove the tumors, but they may also use chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill the cells.
More than 19 out of 20 patients with benign brain tumors survive more than five years after their diagnosis, according to the data.