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'My Facial Numbness Turned Out To Be A Brain Tumor'

Shawna Young was pregnant when doctors diagnosed her with a golf ball-sized mass.

Shawna Young brain tumor story
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SHAWNA YOUNG

During the fifth month of my pregnancy, I woke up one day to find that the left side of my face was numb. I had a prenatal visit scheduled that day, and when I told my doctor about it she said it was probably Bell's Palsy.

I searched the internet for Bell's Palsy, and found out it was when the muscles in your face start to sag. I thought, Oh my god, I'm going to wake up any day now and the left side of my face is going to fall and start drooping. But it never did.

 

At the time, in 2005, I was in my junior year of college, studying elementary education at the University of Indianapolis. I had just moved into my first off-campus apartment. I had a 3-year-old daughter, and was expecting my second child with my then fiancé (now husband). I was doing a little bit of student teaching and preparing for a new baby. And up until that doctor's visit, it had been a relatively stress-free time in my life.

THE DIAGNOSIS

Around two and a half months later, I passed out and was rushed to the emergency room. They did a CAT scan to see if there was fluid on my spine, and when there wasn't, they suggested I follow up with a neurologist and have an MRI done just to be on the safe side.

 

I wasn't sure what it could be—I had been told my previous symptoms were due to Bell's Palsy, which is only supposed to affect the face, so passing out didn't really fit. So I followed up with the neurologist and had that precautionary MRI. A few days later, she called asking me if I could come into her office to discuss the results.

I told her that I had class and tried to get her to tell me over the phone, but she insisted. At that point, I didn't think it could be anything that serious.

At our appointment, she told me I had a meningioma—a tumor that emerges from the membranes around the brain and spinal cord—on the left side of my brain. It was the size of a golf ball.

She said that these types of tumors are generally non-cancerous, but she wouldn't know for sure until they opened my brain up and removed it. A million conflicting, overwhelming emotions hit me at once. I was scared for my baby, for myself, for my family. But I knew I had to be strong for them. I also felt intense anger, frustration, and disappointment in the fact that I had been incorrectly diagnosed. I could have, no, should have, been receiving treatment for this golf-ball-sized tumor two and a half months ago. What now?

RELATED: MARIA MENOUNOS SHARES NEVER-BEFORE-REVEALED DETAILS ABOUT LIFE AFTER HER BRAIN-TUMOR DIAGNOSIS

REMOVING THE TUMOR

Due to the size of the tumor, surgery was the only option.

The plan was to have my baby first, and schedule the surgery after I was recovered. When you're pregnant, you have to be especially careful to avoid complications. At this point, I had about a month left to go in my pregnancy. Before the tumor, I was going to do a vaginal birth—but the ob-gyn recommended a Cesarean section so that there was no chance of dislodging the tumor in some way while pushing in the delivery room. Aside from having a