AVON, Colo. (CBS4) - "When can I ski again?" is not the typical question you'd expect to hear from a patient just diagnosed with one of the most aggressive types of brain tumors, but that was exactly what was on the mind of 45-year-old Misty Gans.
Gans, from Avon, is an avid skier. She even bought her Epic Pass in advance of the 2021 season, but it wasn't long after that her health began to rapidly decline.
"I was waitressing at a little cafe in town ... all of a sudden I couldn't read the screens, and people were like 'Oh, you're going through a nasty divorce. You're just having anxiety you know; you're stressed.' And I was like, no, something's different."
Her ability to read didn't return, then she lost consciousness and fell at work. The final straw was what later turned out to be a seizure while driving.
"All of the cars on the left hand side of the road were just in half. Like I only saw half of the car," she said.
Gans pulled over and realized she could only see half of her phone, so she asked Siri to call her emergency contact.
When medical professionals told her it was likely stress, she demanded an MRI, and a second opinion. In a matter of weeks, her speech began to decline as well.
"When I first met Misty, it was during the first wave of COVID, so we had a virtual consultation," explained Dr. Vadim "Eddie" Tsvankin. "I remember that she wasn't really able to explain much of anything to me. She was able to understand most of what I was saying to her, but she couldn't get words out her speech was stilted."
Tsvankin, or "Dr. Eddie" as he's known to patients and colleagues, is a neurological surgeon for the Sarah Cannon Institute at Swedish Medical Center. He typically sees patients who are seeking a second opinion or who have been told their tumor is inoperable.
"I use sophisticated and advanced techniques, including brain mapping, to be able to provide surgical options to patients who otherwise wouldn't have surgical options," he said.
While the MRI revealed the aggressive tumor was still small, about 2 centimeters, Misty's motor skills and cognitive function were going downhill fast.
"In Misty's case, I remember what was so remarkable about her, was that she was so debilitated by a tumor that really wasn't that large but was in a terrible spot. It was kind of at the junction of a few different important circuits in the brain responsible for a wide array of functions. The most important being language," he said.
In November, Dr. Eddie preformed an awake craniotomy, a way to make sure that as he was extracting the tumor, he was also preserving the areas of the brain it was impairing.
"As I was resecting the tumor, relieving the pressure on her speech area, her speech got better and that was a little bit unique. You don't usually see patient's performance on those tasks inter-operatively improve as you do the surgery, but Misty's did," said Dr. Eddie.
Misty even gave Dr. Eddie a pep-talk during surgery. The main question on her mind? She wanted to know when she could ski.
"He said 'I didn't do this for you for you to sit around, so go live your life,' so I'm like, perfect and I went and skied after my six-week follow-up after my awake craniotomy," laughed Misty.
While the cancer is gone, Misty is still working on regaining her ability to read and remember things -- she says ski therapy helps.
"Just to be up here is just pure joy. You know, it's God's country. It just helps all of that negative energy go away," she said.
Dr. Eddie believes there's more to discover when it comes to the treatment of malignant gliomas and continues to collaborate with other clinicians.
"I'm hopeful that research efforts like this will make my job obsolete by the end of my career," he said.
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