24-year-old Lauren Dirling had just a few weeks remaining until college graduation. She gathered her belongings, grabbed breakfast, and drove to California University of Pennsylvania to prep for finals week.
But that morning, she noticed something was off: Her leg kept shaking.
Between class and work, the trembling continued, so Lauren stopped into the campus doctor’s office. She was prescribed a steroid and told to continue with her day.
An hour later, she got a call from the campus doctor. “I don’t have a good gut feeling about all this. Will you please get a brain scan?”
A few hours after completing her brain scan, Lauren met with her primary care doctor, who told her she needed to be prepared for the worst. “I knew that scan wasn’t going to come back clean,” Lauren said.
It didn’t. She learned there was a massive tumor in her brain.
Lauren’s doctor had recently met a UPMC neurosurgeon, and she called the surgeon personally to schedule an appointment for Lauren. Just 12 hours later, Lauren was at UPMC. The news was hard to take — Lauren had a massive brain tumor resting on her cerebellum. Although it was not cancerous, it needed to be removed immediately.
Four days later, Lauren had surgery at UPMC Mercy. During the intense, seven-hour procedure, surgeons removed a plum-sized epidermoid tumor from her cerebellum. An epidermoid tumor occurs when skin cells become trapped within the skull, brain, or spine within a developing brain. They occur in less than 1 percent of all brain tumors. Fortunately for Lauren, these tumors do not grow back after removal.
As it turned out, the leg shaking had nothing to do with the tumor. “It was terrifying. The tumor could’ve been fatal.”
Following the surgery, she moved to the intensive care unit with a quarter of her head shaved and 20 staples lining the back of her head.
Lauren’s care team told her she would need to spend a week in the hospital. Determined to make it back to class and graduate, she worked diligently on her therapy and was able to leave the hospital after only four days.
Just six weeks later, Lauren graduated with the highest honors and received the “Most Outstanding Graduate” award.
Now, eight years since her surgery, Lauren is living a healthy lifestyle alongside her husband, Chris. She works out five days a week and is happier and stronger than ever before. No matter how difficult her training is, Lauren goes to the gym with a positive attitude and a smile.
“Not many people get a true second chance at life, and I did. How lucky am I?”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Lauren's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.