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Understanding Brain Surgery

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Last August, my mother underwent an eight hour surgery to remove an olfactory neuroblastoma that had spread from her nasal cavity to her frontal lobe. A few weeks after the surgery, an infection formed where the tumor had been, and her forehead was removed. During the second week of September, she will be undergoing another round of surgeries to remove metastases in the lymph nodes and put in a new forehead.

We are all incredibly hopeful, since the cancer has not spread below the neck, and her oncologist said that “her case is curable”—one of the most wonderful things you can ever hear from a doctor.

According to the National Institutes of Health, brain surgery is pretty straight forward. To start, the patient's hair is shaved, and the scalp is cleansed in preparation for surgery. While my mother is looking forward to a forehead, she is not too happy about losing the hair she waited so long to grow back after chemotherapy. After the scalp is prepped, an incision is made on the scalp. According to the National Institutes of Health, the incision is made behind the hairline, in front of the patient's ear, or along the neck where the hairline is; however, the incision may be elsewhere depending on where the tumor is. My mother's first incision goes from ear to ear: as soon as her hair started growing in, you could not even tell that she had a scar.

Once the incision is made, the scalp is pulled up and a hole is made in the skull. Called a bone flap, the piece of bone is removed so the surgeon can reach the brain tumor. In some cases, a special microscope is used. When the doctors performed surgery on my mother, they removed the majority of the tumor, then used the microscope to remove the remnants of the tumor. After the surgery is done, the bone flap is replaced and held with small metal plates, sutures or wires. Originally, my mother had a titanium plate put in; however, the plate was removed in October when the infection was found. However, this surgery should not be as intensive as her first surgery: besides the lymph nodes, her doctors suspect that there may be some abnormal cells still in her nasal passage that can be removed during the surgery.

Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch received her bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in May 2009. She is the Hartford Women's Health Examiner.

Add a Comment3 Comments

Elizabeth, I hope your mother's surgery and recovery go well.

September 3, 2009 - 4:22pm
EmpowHER Guest

I understand brain surgery....I've had one...I understand I WILL NEVER LET A SURGEON TOUCH ME AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They messed me up....and lied about my possible outcome...brian surgeons are EVIL!!!!

September 3, 2009 - 2:18pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Anon - would you like to share with us what happened? Why did you have the surgery? What were you told about your condition, diagnosis, recovery expectations?

September 3, 2009 - 4:24pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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