By Liana Jacob
MEET THE woman who suffered FACIAL PARALYSIS and partial DEAFNESS which doctors attributed to PREGNANCY – but it turned out to be a BRAIN TUMOUR the size of a RACQUETBALL.
Barista co-owner, Jessica Holroyd (40) from Michigan, USA, first began experiencing symptoms such as dizzy spells, headaches and unsteadiness when she was just 22 years old after the birth of her first child, Josiah (19).
She initially assumed it was just symptoms of childbirth, lack of sleep and being a mum for the first time, so she ignored it. However, when she fell pregnant with her second child, Ethan (17), in 2002, her symptoms grew worse; she had severe headaches, dizziness and nausea.
She was in so much pain, she couldn’t get out of bed for most of her pregnancy. When she went to the hospital, doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and attributed her symptoms to her pregnancy.
She ended up going into labour six weeks early and instead of improving, her health problems had worsened. Due to her ongoing headaches her doctors thought she may have had a spinal fluid leak, so she underwent a blood patch where they took blood from her arm to inject into her spinal cord to stop the leak.
Two weeks later, she had a CT scan which showed that her symptoms were caused by a condition called acoustic neuroma, a benign tumour growing in her brain. The benign cyst roughly measured 2.25 inches the same size as a racquetball; her doctor warned her that if they had left it to grow, it would have been inoperable.
It had been pushing on her nerves which is what caused her facial paralysis and partial deafness. She underwent an eight-hour surgery where they removed her right acoustic nerve which was causing deafness in her right ear and they had to leave two millimetres of the tumour on her facial nerve to see if the muscle movement would return which didn’t work.
Jessica’s facial muscle movement has only come back by 40 to 50 per cent since the surgery. For 10 years Jessica felt insecure about her appearance and would hide herself away until she joined a makeup team who made her feel beautiful again. Throughout the experience of telling them her journey and seeing pictures of herself in a new light, she finally felt ready to face the world and claims that it was life changing.
“I first started to notice symptoms after the birth of my first child when I was only twenty-two; I was having dizzy spells, headaches and once in a while the room would spin when I made a quick or sudden movement,” Jessica said.
“I just attributed my symptoms to childbirth, lack of sleep and crazy first-time mum life. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
“Things started to get worse when I got pregnant with my second child; I had severe headaches, dizziness and nausea and I couldn’t get out of bed most of my pregnancy.
“They attributed all of my symptoms to my pregnancy. When my son was born six weeks early my symptoms did not improve but worsened.
“I had c-sections with both of my children and because of the ongoing headaches they thought maybe I had a spinal fluid leak.
“After one of the most painful procedures called a blood patch where they take blood from your arm and put it in your spinal cord to stop the leak, is when my symptoms worsened.
“My worsening symptoms became head and neck pain and numbness from my shoulder blades down through my arms to my fingers.
“I was in and out of the emergency room four different times in a matter of a week. The doctors would give me pain medicine to help with the pain and told me the numbness was due to anxiety and send me home with no additional testing.
“The fourth time in the emergency room my husband stayed an hour and a half after I was discharged to ask why they weren’t doing any additional testing.
“The doctor told him, ‘if there was something wrong with your wife we would have found out by now. She just wants drugs.’
“I felt helpless. I felt like nobody believed me and my symptoms were all in my head. I went back to my OB for my two-week check-up after my c-section and she took one look at me and immediately admitted me for additional testing.
“By the time I entered the hospital my vision started changing; it looked as though the ground was on a slope and I was walking downhill. Also, every time my heart would beat, I would hear what sounded like ocean waves in my head.”
The CT scan confirmed that Jessica had a brain tumour of a large size that had been growing on her brain stem for years, putting pressure on her nerves causing facial paralysis and partial deafness.
Additional testing showed that the tumour was benign.
“The neurologist came to look at me and then went to review the results of my scan. He came back into the room and told me and my mother to sit down,” she said.
“He then told me there was something wrong with my brain; I had major swelling and fluid build-up inside my brain which I was hearing slosh around with every heartbeat (hence the ocean waves).
“He said it was most likely a tumour, but they didn’t know; additional MRI testing would tell. Those were the most frightening earth-shattering words I’d ever heard.
“A few thoughts were circling my mind, ‘I just had a baby two weeks ago. I have an eighteen-month-old child at home and a husband of four years who is my life. Do I have cancer? Am I going to die? What is wrong with my brain?
“After the MRI they told me I had a very large almost in-operable tumour the size of a racquetball on my brain stem pushing on all my nerves.
“It ran through my acoustic nerve, on my facial nerve and was pressing against my optic nerve which was causing the vision problems too. They said it was most likely benign which it did end up being.
“I spent two weeks in the ICU so the swelling and fluid inside my brain could go down enough to operate.
“When it was time, I was brought back for an eight-hour surgery where they removed my right acoustic nerve causing deafness in my right ear, they also left 2mm of the tumour on my facial nerve to see if muscle movement would return but it still caused major facial paralysis.
“It took a very long time to get to where I am at today; it took me ten years after my surgery to take pictures or even videos of myself.
“I still have and struggle with facial paralysis even now; my muscle movement in my face has come back maybe forty to fifty per cent after surgery but has not come back any further as of this day. I can’t fully smile, and I have no muscle movements in my forehead or right eyebrow.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed of my journey; my self confidence in losing the one thing that most people attribute to beauty (face/smile) was gone.
“I didn’t look like other people. I was broken. I didn’t work right. Why would anybody want to hear from me?
“A few years later I joined a little makeup team; the support I got was unimaginable. The stories they told about their flaws, their lives and their brokenness were just like mine.
“I had never felt like a part of something like it before; they encouraged me to tell my story and even take pictures and videos of myself. It was life changing for me.
“Now I feel blessed to be here with my family; thankful for the hard times even though I didn’t know it back then.
“It has moulded and shaped me into who I am today. Today I am able to tell my story and bear my flaws in order to help others see their own beauty.
“What helped me through the hard times was my Faith in God and the help of my family and friends. Have faith and keep fighting.
“It won’t be easy at first; there are days when you will want to give up. I want you to know that I believe in you. You are stronger than you think. You are brave. You are worthy. You are enough.”