“I will not let a brain tumor deter me from my destiny.”
This is Theandra Madu, a 29-year-old aspiring neurologist and Howard University medical student who was in the middle of rotations when she noticed her tongue couldn’t touch the roof of her mouth. Between October and December, these episodes of paralysis went from being a weekly to daily occurrence. After consulting a neurologist, Theandra learned that she had a 2.8cm mass in the frontal lobe of her brain — a future neuro doctor with a brain tumor.
“I will never forget the evening of Jan. 11, 2021 — the day I found out my diagnosis,” Theandra told BuzzFeed. “I had just left the gym and I was headed back home. My phone rang, and I immediately knew this call was about to be life-changing. Something told me to brace myself. I answered, and it was my neurologist. He said, ‘They found something on your scan.’ I had to immediately park my car.”
“He went on to say that the radiologist found what appears to be a low-grade glioma in my left frontal lobe. I was stunned that a brain tumor was the origin of my symptoms. I didn’t think something so serious could have been the cause of what actually were seizures this whole time,” Theandra continued while reflecting on her symptoms.
After receiving the news, Theandra called her parents. Terrified and crying in the car, she was met on the phone by her mom and dad, who both assured her that everything would work out in the end.
“They spoke without hesitation and proclaimed I was going to be fine,” Theandra said. “They gave me hope I could not see for myself. My parents are incredible, and I thank God for them.”
Freshly reassured, Theandra began booking appointments with a neurosurgeon and neuro-oncologist who would work in tandem to save her.
“When I learned of my diagnosis, I was still in the midst of my studies,” Theandra said. “I was making these life decisions while nearing the tail-end of my psychiatry rotations. Only my deans and attendings were aware of my appointments and the gravity of my situation. I’m a third-year medical student, trying my best to excel at my rotations, and now I have a tumor…in my brain!”
Ever since the moment she decided to pursue medicine, Theandra knew she wanted to be a neurologist and study the brain. Now, in the midst of her studies, she had to take eight weeks off to become the kind of patient she plans to treat.
Then, on Feb. 8, 2021, Theandra’s tumor was removed during a craniotomy — a surgery that temporarily removes a small piece of the skull to gain access to the brain — which she remained numbed but awake during.
“Today makes one month since my surgery,” Theandra announced with excitement. “No further intervention, chemotherapy, or radiation is needed at this time. I am truly blessed.”
To track her brain’s healing and monitor for any future recurrences, the med student will periodically have MRI brain scans completed. But for now? “I’m grateful to be alive,” Theandra said.
After undergoing the full process — from experiencing her own symptoms, to choosing a neuro team, and trusting doctors with her life — Theandra believes her journey will help her cater to patients with newfound understanding and sympathy.
“When I become a neurologist, I will be able to identify and relate on so much more of a deeper level with my patients,” she said.
“The brain and the nervous system, with all its intricacies, is remarkable,” Theandra continued. “The brain is the master controller — the gatekeeper of the body. Neurology, as a field, has so many facets. From stroke, to movement disorders, cognition, headache, or even sleep, Neurology is an expansive frontier. My own personal experience has further underscored my desire to practice in this field.”
“I will not let a brain tumor deter me from my destiny,” she concluded.
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