My brain tumor: A headache that won't go away

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By Trent Johnson

Trent_JohnsonI have a headache ... or not.

I was in elementary school when I started having headaches. The headaches seemed to hurt mostly when I was reading, so my parents took me to the eye doctor.

My parents and brother wear glasses and contacts, so we just assumed that my headaches were caused by vision problems. I was prescribed reading glasses. The glasses helped for a while, but in middle school my headaches started occurring more frequently.

Everyone thought I was faking a headache so I could go home and get out of school work, which was aggravating. I also started playing football, a hard-hitting sport, which we thought may have been why, at times, my headaches were so bad.

Placing blame on football and allergies
In high school, I continued playing football. Often, I played against teams with guys twice my size. One of the last games of my ninth grade season, I had to compete against a guy who weighed about 250 pounds, I weighed just 150 pounds. So, naturally, as my headaches persisted, I thought once again it was due to the head-to-head contact in football.

In late November 2009, my headaches became more severe and I began vomiting. Not knowing the cause, I blamed it on allergies, "my sinuses are flared," I thought.

Unbearable pain
One morning in early December I was at school when I got another massive headache. I called my mom, who was at work, and asked her to bring me some aspirin. A couple hours later, I had to call her again to say that I could no longer take the pain and needed her to pick me up.

The next morning she told me to stay home from school and she would call the doctor. It was Friday, I told her that I had a test and did not want to have to make it up. I went to school, but an hour later called her to come get me. She immediately called the doctor and scheduled an appointment for the following week.

Yet, my headache was unbearable, so my mom called the 24-hour nurse hotline with our insurance company to ask questions. The next day she called the doctor to get some more advice.

On Sunday, I had to go to urgent care. I told the doctor I was fine except that my head hurt, badly. He prescribed medicine for a migraine. It didn't work.

On Monday, Dec. 7, my mom called the doctor and said she wanted a CT scan of my head done right away. We went in that same day and the doctor called about three hours later with the results.

The diagnosis
We were told that I had a brain tumor, a little larger than a golf ball on top of my brain stem. The next day I was admitted to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The doctors at MD Anderson diagnosed me with a pilocytic astrocytoma and said that it was very serious -- possible death, blindness, paralysis and/or I could be left with the mind of a 3- or 4-year-old.

On Dec. 14, 2009, Dr. Nicholas Levine, a neurosurgeon, and his staff were able to remove more than 99% of the tumor. Fortunately, I did not need chemotherapy or radiation -- my tumor was benign! However, I did spend several months in physical and occupational therapy.

Back in action
Today, I have some slight double vision and parts of my left side tingle and are numb. I'm keeping on track in school with above-average grades.

I took one year off from playing football, but began playing full time again my junior year.

I will be entering my senior year this fall and I am looking forward to being a leader on my football team, the Sam Houston Broncos, in Moss Bluff, La.

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