If not for the Gamma Knife Centre of Queensland located at the PA Hospital (PAH) and Dr Mark Pinkham, Merrimac’s Vicki Court is not sure where her life would be today or if she’d even be alive.
The 57-year-old mother to Cameron and David, was diagnosed with a Trigeminal Schwannoma in 2017, and if not for trusting her instincts she may not have been diagnosed at all.
Vicki Court with her son Cameron and his partner Emma.
“It was kind of lucky it was found, all I had was a numbness to one side of my face. When I would wash my face with a washer, I would feel pins and needles on that side and as I had no pain, I just put up with it for a while, thinking it was a pinched nerve or something like that,” she said.
“I’d been misdiagnosed two years earlier with what they thought was bowel cancer but when they operated they found I had endometriosis and ended up needing a temporary ostomy bag. My previous GP kept telling me it was because I was overweight and I believed him and suffered for years. Because of this history, I thought I better get this numbness checked out ‘just in case’ so I went to see my current GP.
Vicki Court with son David and his partner Luli.
“She sent me to an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist who put a camera down my nose and said everything looked ok, but because of what I had been through and wanting to reassure me, the ENT sent me to Gold Coast hospital’s Neurosurgery department, and they decided to do a brain MRI not expecting to find anything.
“They rang afterwards about going back to see the doctor there as they had found something and then from there, I was through to the PA to the Gamma Knife for treatment. It was daunting but I was almost relieved because it wasn’t dismissed, I don’t know what would have happened if I had of been dismissed to be honest.”
Thanks to Dr Pinkham’s involvement in a multidisciplinary meeting that reviewed her case, Vicki came to the PAH to have her Schwannoma treated by the Gamma Knife Centre of Queensland. The Gamma Knife is one of only two machines of its kind in Australia which can treat brain tumours using precision radiation, saving patients from invasive and risky surgery.
Though her tumour was found to be benign, Vicki still believes it may have severely impacted her quality of life if not treated and remains eternally grateful for being treated at the PAH by the Gamma Knife.
Vicki Court just prior to her Gamma Knife treatment with the Gamma Knife head frame.
“It took some time for me to understand that even though the tumour wasn’t cancerous, if it’d continued to grow it could have eventually caused neurological damage, so I often wonder what could’ve happened if it hadn’t been picked up until years later or not at all,” she said.
“I feel so blessed to have had Gamma Knife treatment because surgery for me sounded very risky because of how far in the middle of my head my tumour is. The thought of any surgery going right into my brain and near the brain stem was very scary, so I was so grateful I didn’t have to go down that path.
“If I didn’t have the Gamma Knife treatment, I don’t know how big my tumour would’ve eventually grown or what effect that would have had on me, so I feel very lucky and am eternally grateful the Gamma Knife treatment was available as an option and that it was also non-invasive.
“I believed the Gamma Knife saved me.”
With the Gamma Knife treatment in August of 2017 shrinking her tumour and stopping its growth, Vicki recovered quickly only to have a few health problems a few months later in what was a tumultuous time of her life.
Having recovered now, Vicki remains grateful to the PAH and to Dr Pinkham for his honesty and care throughout her journey.
“I went home and for three months I was fine, I didn’t have a problem and just thought how lucky I was and after the initial nerves, how easy it had all been,” she said.
“Then I was made redundant, I don’t know if it was the shock and stress of that or not, but I went downhill big time. I started getting headaches and had a constant stabbing pain in my eye. I was taking up to 8 aspirins a day to help with the pain, but it wasn’t working so after talking to the doctor I went to the stronger pain killers I was given post Gamma Knife, but hadn’t needed until then, but after a month they didn’t help either. I didn’t know how much more I could take.
“Dr Pinkham said it may have been a delayed reaction to the radiation or the stress of the redundancy. I was put on low level anti-depressants to help with the nerve pain and that worked. I had finally turned a corner and was feeling more positive.
“I rate Dr Pinkham so highly, he is just great. From our first meeting where he told me he ‘says it as it is’ I knew I could trust him. I like honesty and being straight up, whether it’s tough news or not, and he told me he would be like that from day dot and he still is.
“He’s so reassuring and he listens to my concerns and answers my questions patiently. He has always been there to help me when I’ve needed him in regard to my treatment and after care and I’m lucky to have him as my oncologist.
“For me he has been a godsend.
“I donate to the Gamma Knife when I can, so others can be helped like I have been. If you can afford to, please consider donating as well so you too can help others with this lifesaving procedure”.
Donate to help more people like Vicki Court be helped by Gamma Knife surgery here.