Reclaiming her life
Nancy Raine, a bestselling author from Bedford, Virginia, had trouble finding words to describe her shock and anxiety when she learned she had a brain tumor. As someone who was generally healthy and exercised daily, she was stunned by the news. “I didn’t know anything was wrong with me until it was really wrong,” she remembers.
Raine had trouble walking and often fell. It became harder to take her two chocolate Labradors for walks on her farm, and she was very tired. Over time, she lost the ability to type and write, leaving her feeling isolated. “I thought I had depression or it was a part of aging,” says Raine, age 65. “I tried to exercise more to work my way out of the depression, but that only made me fall more.”
Nancy Raine and Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa
Chapter 1: Discovering the Tumor
In January 2011, a CT scan of Raine’s brain ruled out a stroke, but the imaging showed what appeared to be a brain tumor. An MRI image confirmed that Raine had a skull-based meningioma. The brain tumor was about three centimeters long and wrapped around her brain stem, crushing it against a small corner and leaving little space
for her brain.
Raine realized she needed a physician with experience treating these complex tumors. She spoke with a family member in Maryland who suggest
ed she contact Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, M.D.
“Another surgeon felt that Nancy’s tumor was inoperable because of its location in her brain stem and the way it was pushing on her spinal cord,” says Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa. “The tumor was draped around all the blood vessels and nerves that are important for breathing, eating, walking, talking and many other vital functions. She was basically told to plan her funeral.”
Chapter 2: Finding Hope
When Raine traveled to Johns Hopkins Bayview to see Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa, he first explained the risks and challenges of operating on the tumor. She had confidence in him and his team, yet Raine was not certain that the surgery was worth the risks it posed to her abilities to talk, see and swallow, and most important, to her life.
Over the telephone, she connected with a previous patient who had undergone a similar surgery 20 years earlier and was now doing well and working as a nurse. That patient’s surgeon had helped to train Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa. “This person gave me hope that the surgery could work for me and that I, too, could beat this tumor and get back to my work and my life,” notes Raine.
“I also felt a connection to Dr. Quiñones that made me believe in him,” she adds. “He was positive and caring.” In February 2011, Raine underwent an all-day surgery to remove her tumor. “The meningioma had grown into her brain stem, making it a very complicated and challenging surgery. At times during the surgery even her heart rate was affected,” explains Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa. “What really made a difference during this complicated procedure was the intraoperative CT scanner and neuronavigation tools, which helped me better map my work and gave me more precision during the delicate procedure.”
Chapter 3: Reclaiming Her Life
Raine recovered faster than she expected, with the help of husband Steve Stevick. They went home to Virginia six days after the surgery. “Afterwards, I was so glad to be able to talk, eat and smile,” says Raine. “And I was grateful to have the support of my family––I needed it.”
Says Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa, “My goal was to get rid of the tumor that was keeping Nancy from living her life, writing and inspiring others. Removing the tumor and then learning that it wasn’t cancerous was such a relief to me. Nancy is full of life. When she woke up after surgery and was able to talk and move, I was filled with joy.”
Raine is back to day-to-day life––gardening, walking her dogs and grooming her horses. She’s looking forward to getting back into writing. “Overall, I’m enjoying the countryside and the challenge of advocating for land conservation and a healthier environment,” she says. “I’m able to do almost everything I did before the tumor.”
She remembers telling friends before the surgery that she would finally tackle her paperwork, poetry and photos if she made it through. “I’m still working on all those odds and ends, but I’m really focusing on what’s important in life,” adds Raine. “It’s like a new world. You can’t imagine my gratitude.”
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