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Cancer Questions?

Misty, an avid skier from Eagle, Colorado, experienced an array of serious neuro-related symptoms in September 2020.  Her symptoms ultimately led to the abrupt diagnosis of glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive types of brain tumors at the age of 45. Among her first questions was, “When can I ski again?”

She knew something was wrong when she suddenly was unable to read.  While working at a cafe, Misty couldn’t read the screens, then, while at work one day, she lost consciousness and fell. She was told it was due to stress and anxiety in her life, but the last straw was when she had a seizure while driving.

Medical professionals told Misty her seizure was likely due to stress or severe migraines. However, she felt like something else was wrong, so she demanded an MRI and a second opinion. Within a matter of weeks, her speech began to decline as well.

Misty’s MRI showed a small tumor, about 3 centimeters, but her motor skills and cognitive function were decreasing rapidly.

After visiting with multiple providers, she had a virtual consultation with Dr. Vadim “Eddie” Tsvankin, a neurological surgeon for the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center, who typically sees patients who are seeking a second opinion or who have been told their tumor is inoperable.

“I use sophisticated and advanced techniques, including brain mapping, to be able to provide surgical options to patients who otherwise wouldn’t have surgical options,” said Dr. Tsvankin. “In Misty’s case, I remember what was so remarkable about her, was that she was so debilitated by a tumor that really wasn’t that large but was in a terrible spot. It was kind of at the junction of a few different important circuits in the brain responsible for a wide array of functions. The most important being language.”

In November 2020, Dr. Tsvankin performed an awake craniotomy on Misty. This approach allowed him to remove the tumor while preserving the areas of the brain that control Misty’s speech and other functions.

“As I was resecting the tumor, relieving the pressure on her speech area, her speech got better and that was a little bit unique. You don’t usually see patient’s performance on those tasks intra-operatively improve as you do the surgery, but Misty’s did,” said Dr. Tsvankin.

Within weeks, Misty asked Dr. Tsvankin when she could ski again. Dr. Tsvankin indicated that Misty needed to show her new ski helmet before he’d release her to ski.  On the next virtual visit, and with her vision improving, that’s exactly what happened and she was on the slopes within days and skied 100 days this season.

Misty wearing snow gear in the snow

“He said ‘I didn’t do this for you to sit around, so go live your life,’ so I’m like, perfect and I went and skied after my six-week follow-up,” said Misty.

Misty is cancer free now, but she’s still working hard to improve her vision, cognitive function and short-term memory. But ski therapy and frequent dance trips are helping her.

“Just to be up here is pure joy. You know, it’s God’s country and His presence has guided me through this journey. It just helps all of that negative energy go away,” said Misty.

Dr. Tsvankin firmly believes that there is more to research and discover about the treatment of malignant gliomas.

“I’m hopeful that research efforts like this will make my job obsolete by the end of my career,” said Dr. Tsvankin.