Donna Yancey

Donna YanceyA vision of grace

Sitting in the park on a fine spring day, Donna Yancey took in the sights: kids playing, trees swaying, geese flying. She looked left, she looked right, she looked left again. Double vision? She looked right again, then left again. Yes, double vision. Later, she began noticing it while driving.

Yancey was frightened. But she had no other symptoms. No headaches, dizziness, fainting, or memory loss. She went to her eye doctor. Her vision was good. She had a hearing test and an inner-ear test. Both normal. But it was a CAT scan that showed a tumor-close to her pituitary.

Yancey had surgery May 25, for removal of what doctors thought was a pituitary tumor. Surgeons removed the tumor via her nose, a relatively new procedure. But the surgeons soon discovered the growth was in fact not a pituitary tumor.

Yancey had a clival chordoma brain tumor. Chordoma are rare. They develop in the base of the skull or the spine and don't spread to other parts of the body. Instead, they grow until they crowd surrounding tissue and destroy it. In Yancey's case, the tumor was crowding her pituitary gland and stretching her right optic nerve. Hence, the double vision.

But shortly after her surgery, Yancey learned that a substantial amount of the chordoma remained and was told radiation was the only treatment available.  "So, my local radiation oncologist referred me to Emory to make sure radiation was what I needed," says Yancey. "I met with Dr. Ian Crocker, and for this I will forever be grateful."

Crocker told her the tumor was still too large for radiation. In fact, the amount of radiation needed to rid her of a tumor that large would harm the surrounding tissue and likely blind her.  Instead, he recommended additional surgery and then radiation. Emory neurosurgeon Dr. Costas Hadjipanayis and otolaryngologist Dr. Sarah Wise agreed to step in.

"At the time, my first grandchild was only one year old, and I couldn't imagine not seeing her grow up," says Yancey. Because Hadjipanyis found that the tumor was slow growing and Yancey was asymptomatic, they agreed to schedule surgery after the first of the year.

"Dr. Wise opened the pathway through the nose so Dr. Hadjipanayis could remove the tumor," says Yancey. " It was similar to the first surgery I had, but this time both sides of my nose were open, not just one, so they could more aggressively go after the tumor. My week in the hospital was trying, but I came through with flying colors. The same was true of my recovery at home."

Nearly two months later, Yancey underwent radiation. Every weekday she would drive to Emory for treatment. "I was told to expect side effects such as tiredness, dry mouth, and some hair loss," she says. "I had the first two symptoms, but I don't think I ever lost one hair on my head. I pretty much breezed through all 37 treatments without a hitch."

Because clival chordoma can return, Yancey's doctors will have to watch her closely for the rest of her life. But if the tumor does return, treatments are available.

"I'm hopeful that the tumor won't return," says Yancey. "But even if it does, between God and the doctors, I trust it will be taken care of. My experience with Emory has been positive from the beginning. When I saw my MRI taken a few weeks after my second surgery, there was only blackness where there had been a white ball, the tumor. I got to see with my own eyes the successful results of proper treatment with the right doctors."

3-D Endoscopic Pituitary Tumor Removal