Why a brain tumor survivor brought his guitar into the OR

When Robert Alvarez was diagnosed with a low-grade insular brain tumor in 2013, he decided to hope for the best and postpone treatment. “The doctors told me surgery could leave me paralyzed,” Robert recalls. He noticed increasing headaches and clumsiness, but the symptoms were still manageable. As an active 19-year-old athlete and musician, Robert felt the risks of surgery were worse than living with the brain tumor.   “I just hoped it wouldn’t grow and tried to be careful,” he says. After high school, Robert moved from San Antonio to Chicago to pursue a music career and start vocational school in audio engineering. Meanwhile, his mother began researching neurosurgeons and hospitals for the future. A love of music In Chicago, Robert started a metal band with a few friends. His brain tumor served as the inspiration for the band’s name: Death from Within. Robert had started playing the guitar at age 12, inspired by an eclectic mix of music, ranging from 90s hip-hop to heavy metal. “I picked it up fast,” Robert says. “I like to bump it – just turn the amp up and jam when everyone else leaves the house.” The road to MD Anderson   After a few years in Chicago, Robert began to notice new symptoms. “I would wake up at night feeling weird, and I’d run to look at myself in the bathroom mirror,” he says. “One night, I fell out of bed. My roommate heard me hit the wood floor and came to check on me.” Robert was having seizures – a common brain tumor symptom – in his sleep. Robert woke up...