New Mexico woman thanks UNM surgeons for removing brain tumor

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Back in August, Cindy Nava had just come back from vacation and was getting ready to do more advocacy work for a state nonprofit.

"I was just very busy as a consultant," Nava said. "I was sitting at my desk actually here and started getting a massive headache. It was completely unexpected and I didn’t know what was going on."

Nava rushed to urgent care but "everything was extremely packed," as Nava described. When she finally got in to see someone, the doctor started asking her about any symptoms beyond the headache.

That’s when she remembered feeling tingling in her legs the day before.

"When I told him that, he immediately questioned it and said I had to have a CT scan," Nava said.

The scan showed Nava had a golf ball-sized tumor.

"They said, ‘Well, we don’t want to scare you,’ and I said, ‘Well that’s the worst thing to say if you don’t want to scare me,’" Nava remembered.

After discussing options, Nava was eventually transferred to UNM Hospital where newer technology was available to do a less invasive procedure.

"We can take the tumors out through much, much smaller incisions, smaller craniotomy," described Dr. Christian Bowers, a UNMH neurosurgeon. "Patients do a lot better and can get out of the hospital quicker when it’s the right case."

The tumor was non-cancerous – a colloid cyst.

"She was getting symptoms of obstructive hydrocephalus or a buildup of the cerebrospinal fluid," Dr. Bowers said, "which normally is created in the brain and circulates around but it couldn’t circulate so it’s like a dam. It blocks it and builds it back up."

"All of these risks were coming to mind," Nava said, "and I just had to find myself in a place of peace."

About a week after her headache, Dr. Bowers and his team performed the surgery.

"We basically get down to the lesion and then you’re just delicately trying to remove the cyst – the tumor with the lesion – without damaging those delicate structures," Dr. Bowers said.

The surgery went so well to where Nava was cleared to go to a wedding two days later.

"The support that I think I received from Dr. Bowers and so many of the nurses and the rest of the staff was just so fundamental and so important," Nava said graciously.

Nava hopes her story reminds others how important it is to have access to quality medical care.

"Now that I carry this lived experience, I really hope to take it to a whole other level," Nava said. "I hope to collaborate with allies like Dr. Bowers to ensure that our communities have that access."