Hemangioblastoma survivor grateful for neurosurgeon’s expertise

When the headache started, Tabatha Conway recognized it immediately. Although it had been 20 years since she first felt that headache, she knew what it meant: her brain tumor was back. “It’s a very specific headache,” Tabatha says. “It feels like blood pulsating towards the back of my head.” It’s a fitting description, because the tumor, called hemangioblastoma, grows from blood vessel cells in the brain. A stubborn brain tumor Tabatha’s headaches first began when she was 15 years old. They came and went every few months for four years. Over time, the headaches became more severe, sometimes causing Tabatha to vomit. One day, she woke up and couldn’t walk. Tabatha’s mother took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the posterior fossa region, near her cerebellum (the brain’s balance center). Tabatha had surgery and learned the tumor was a grade I hemangioblastoma, a rare, benign brain tumor. She didn’t have any other symptoms or problems until the headache returned 20 years later.   Tabatha’s second brain surgery was in 2005, but this time, the tumor grew back faster. It returned in 2013, then again and again. “The time between surgeries became shorter and shorter, and the tumor was getting bigger and bigger,” Tabatha says. “I lived in fear. I kept up a cheerful countenance, but I was scared all the time. Every time the doctor said he got all of it, it would come back.” Preparing for the worst As Tabatha’s doctor explained, parts of the tumor were too small to see, and those parts kept getting left behind and growing back....