Tumour survivor raises national awareness

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Cheryl Vollrath becomes spokesperson for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada

Cheryl Vollrath is thankful for every day that she gets to live without an orange in her head. That’s the size of the tumour that her doctors told her was growing on her brain and pushing on her sinuses.

It was July 2002. Vollrath had been experiencing a lot of neck and shoulder problems but she chalked it all up to the many hours of computer work she spent at her desk job. She had a lot of sinus infections too, but that too was explained away.

“I had allergies. None of those things even clued me in that I might have a brain tumour,” she said. “I would go and get checked up. I’d get a massage, I’d get an adjustment from the chiropractor and then off I go. I’d be good again.”

Eventually, these treatments no longer worked. Things got worse in mid-spring. She collapsed one day. Another morning she woke up and couldn’t get dressed because of the physical distress she was experiencing, which she compared to throwing out her back. She had to lean against the wall to stand up straight.

Her doctors conducted an MRI scan and gave her painkillers.

“He didn’t refer me to a neurologist or anything at that point, which he should have, and then they would have known,” she said.

Two months later, the inevitable happened. She was meant to meet her brother for lunch but she needed a ride.

“I had called him … I don’t recall doing this … and said he’d have to come get me,” she continued, adding that she felt ill after eating cafeteria food, and turned pale. She went to the bathroom to splash water on her face. She didn’t return.

“I woke up in the hospital the next morning and they told me I had a brain tumour,” she said.

The meningioma was located behind her right eye and had caused a massive seizure. That was the bad news. The good news: the doctors were able to remove the growth and they determined it was benign.

Vollrath was 45 at the time. Even now she has no idea what caused her tumour. According to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, 27 people get diagnosed with any of more than 120 types of brain tumour every day in this country. Right now, there are approximately 55,000 survivors.

“The pathologist figured it was growing in my head for about 10 to 15 years,” Vollrath said.

On a mission

Happy to be alive and healthy, she has decided to take her story on a mission of sorts. She has become a spokesperson for the foundation and one of her tasks is to participate in the Spring Sprint, a fundraising and awareness run taking place in Edmonton on Saturday, June 2.

“You almost have to be your own advocate for your health,” she said, adding that people should pay attention to the warning signs.

“Don’t ignore it.”

On its website at www.braintumour.ca, the foundation lists numerous symptoms that, alone or together, could be indicative of a brain tumour:

• behavioural or cognitive changes

• dizziness or unsteadiness

• double or blurred vision

• frequent headaches

• hearing impairment

• morning nausea and vomiting

• seizures, weakness or paralysis.

The public can register for the event at www.springsprint.ca or by calling 1-800-265-5106.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.