Sunday, December 6, 2015

At Age 14: A Brain Tumor

By Anna Patterson

Being a teenager can be tough. So many changes happen both physically and emotionally that it’s difficult to keep up. But for Sunni Wigginton, “tough” took on a whole new meaning when she turned 14. Right before starting high school, Sunni was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a benign tumor that sits on the nerve associated with hearing and balance, and a rarity for anyone under age 50.

Sunni had dealt with severe migraines for years. At first, she believed the headaches were a result of the jumping and pounding from her gymnastics training. At age 14, after the migraines persisted, she was scheduled for an MRI.

Nothing showed up.

At this point, Sunni was having migraines four or five times a week. The only way to relieve the pain was to sleep it off, which meant she was sleeping almost constantly. Sunni’s family then scheduled another MRI, and her tumor was discovered. She was told no surgery was needed due to the small size and slow growth rate of this particular tumor. And to her disappointment, doctors told Sunni repeatedly that her tumor had nothing to do with her severe migraines.

For two years, Sunni returned for an annual MRI while doctors kept an eye on the tumor. Then at age 16, just four months after her yearly check-up, Sunni’s migraines were so severe they caused her to convulse. Her family insisted on another MRI. The results came back to show the tumor had quadrupled in size in only four months and was less than a millimeter away from her brain stem. If the tumor reached the stem, Sunni could be paralyzed or even die.

Finally, Sunni was scheduled for surgery with a specialist in New York. The surgery was a success. She stayed in New York for two months to recover, where she relearned how to walk and use the right side of her face which had been temporarily paralyzed.

Now, at age 18, Sunni is healthy and full of life. She owns her own photography business, Sunni Photography, and does freelance work for local advertising companies. She’s pursuing a degree in business at the University of Louisville and has big plans for her future. Sunni continues doing facial therapy to work out what Sunni describes as a “Charlie horse in her face.” She also receives botox every three months to relax the muscles in her face. As for her migraines, they are few and far between. Sunni went from having severe headaches four to five times a week, to once every few months. Her advice for anyone dealing with severe headaches or any ailment is trust what you feel. “Go with your gut,” Sunni says, “because sometimes doctors are like, oh you’re fine. But if you really think something is wrong, insist on getting it looked at. It saved my life.”

Sunni radiates positivity – a quality she has maintained throughout her illness. She says her life mantra is to stay positive. “Life gets better,” she says. “In the moment, things might seem so horrible, but after the fact, I learned so much about myself. I became so much stronger. Even though it was bad, it changed my life for the better. It turned my world upside down, but then it turned back upside down again.”

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story of an amazing young woman! I know Sunni and her family and she is a true miracle!


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