Brain tumor-free, a life rebounding

Carol Fichtner is a shadow of her old self, and she’s grateful for it. Nearly two years after undergoing surgery to remove a high-grade tumor from her brain, the 61-year-old has shed 100 pounds and is enjoying a life free of the seizures that once held her virtually captive in the Tigard apartment she shared with her daughter, Clara Mae.

“Once I had my seizures under control I was able to walk on my own,” she says. “I’m past 10,000 steps, which is more than five miles a day.”

The surgery to remove the malignant tumor, positioned dangerously close to the part of the brain that controls movement, took all day in December of 2009 (“A Delicate Dance”). Providence St. Vincent Medical Center had recently installed a high-resolution MRI designed to take scans of patients on the operating table, allowing surgeons to confirm instantly that they’ve removed as much of the tumor as possible.

The images taken during Carol’s surgery showed that Providence neurosurgeon Daniel Rohrer, M.D., had gotten the bulk of the mass, but he had to leave behind tiny tendrils of the tumor that had diffused into the brain’s anatomy.

Carol underwent nearly six weeks of radiation treatments to kill the remaining cancer cells. In May of 2010 she received some wonderful news: No sign of a brain tumor.

“When I went into surgery I was very positive,” she says. “I was confident that God was going to bring me through this.”

The experience changed not only Carol, but her daughter, Clara Mae Fichtner. The 21-year-old was studying to be a chef when her mother’s illness struck. She quit school to care for Carol, and discovered that she was meant to be in health care.

She’s now working as a caregiver to disabled seniors and planning to get an MBA in health care administration.

“I really enjoy giving compassion,” she says. “You get instant gratification from the people’s lives you touch.”

Providence recently opened Providence Brain Tumor Center for patients just like Carol.