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Carol Cambridge: Craniopharyngioma

She wears a tan jacket, gray baseball cap, and sun glasses. She is holding a fish she caught.

The Challenge

Carol Cambridge loves when a fly rod is in her hands. She and her husband Joe have spent more than 20 years teaching fly fishing workshops in the Finger Lakes region of New York where she grew up. Fishing was such an important aspect of their lives that they chose to get married at their favorite fly fishing resort on the Delaware River.

"They saved my life in more ways than one." — Carol

“It was one of the happiest times of my life,” says Carol. “It was such a perfect day.”

Despite her happiness, this 72-year-old retired educator and published poet sensed that something was wrong. Being a very active person, Carol found it strange that she began experiencing blurred and decreased vision, occasional dizziness, and nausea when she was going about her normal daily routine.

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Concerned that something wasn’t right, she visited her optometrist, who assured her that the issue was nothing more than complications from cataracts. However, Carol was convinced that it was something more.

“I had a terrible feeling of apprehension,” she says. “I had to quit driving altogether because often I couldn’t see cars in the oncoming lane. I was afraid to hurt myself, my grandchildren, or anyone else on the road.”

Carol then visited an ophthalmologist, who requested an MRI. The MRI showed what Carol and Joe had dreaded, a large tumor pressing on her optic nerves.

The Path to UPMC

After seeing several neurosurgeons in the New York area, Carol was diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma (a noncancerous tumor that grows in the brain above the pituitary gland). She initially scheduled surgery to have it removed, but because of the invasive approach the doctors wanted to take, she cancelled the operation.

As time passed, Carol’s vision deteriorated to where she couldn’t read at all. Her two daughters and son began searching online for a less invasive approach to remove the tumor, and eventually came across UPMC neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Gardner and the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). They immediately picked up the phone and were able to talk to Dr. Gardner that day.

Within eight days, Carol and Joe were on their way to Pittsburgh. During the initial consultation, Dr. Gardner gave them the news they were hoping for. Carol was an excellent candidate for minimally invasive surgery.

“This gave me hope for a longer life, a longer marriage, and the chance to continue to do the things that I have loved doing all my life,” says Carol.

Because Carol was now legally blind and losing more vision each day, Dr. Gardner and his team decided to operate immediately.

The Solution

Dr. Gardner and otolaryngologist Dr. Carl Snyderman were able to remove the tumor through Carol’s nose using EEA. This technique allowed the doctors to reach her craniopharyngioma through her nose and sinuses, without disturbing her face or skull.

The Results

The day after her surgery, Carol noticed immediate improvement in her vision. In fact, she had to put down a magazine she was reading to have her first vision test. A few days later, Carol was discharged to a local hotel where she was staying during her visit to Pittsburgh.

Only a few weeks later, Carol is back to enjoying what she loves most – fishing, writing, tending to her vegetable garden and perennials, and being part of her grandchildren’s lives.

“We feel that it was something more than sheer luck that involved finding Dr. Gardner and his team at UPMC,” she says. “They saved my life in more ways than one.”

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.

Carol's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

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