Most people have no idea what it’s like to learn they have a brain tumor. The news can be emotional, stressful and even scary. Whatever you’re feeling right now is okay, because your experience is going to be very personal. But that doesn’t mean you’re in this alone.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, you may be wondering where you go from here and what to do next. Below are some suggestions to help guide you in the coming days and weeks. And guess what? You’ve already taken the first step: learning more about your acoustic neuroma diagnosis.
1. Learn About Acoustic Neuroma
Educating yourself about your condition can be a powerful way to gain a sense of control right now. While your personal doctor will be the best person to discuss the specifics of your acoustic neuroma, having a basic understanding will be helpful.
An acoustic neuroma is a benign brain tumor. That means it does not spread to other areas of the body or invade local tissues. However, that doesn’t mean an acoustic neuroma is harmless. These tumors form from the vestibulocochlear nerve, the cranial nerve responsible for hearing and balance. This is why an acoustic neuroma may cause hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo.
Sometimes an acoustic neuroma causes symptoms by impinging on structures other than the vestibulocochlear nerve. Facial muscle weakness or numbness can result if the facial nerve is affected. Though rare, an acoustic neuroma can also impinge on the brain stem, which can have life-threatening effects.
This information isn’t meant to scare you. However, it is important to work with a doctor experienced in treating acoustic neuroma. This leads to the next step: exploring your treatment options.
2. Understand Your Treatment Options
Generally speaking, there are three treatment options for acoustic neuroma: careful monitoring, surgery and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Some patients also benefit from a combination approach. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on the size and location of your acoustic neuroma, as well as your overall health. Familiarizing yourself with the different options now will help you feel more comfortable during those conversations.
If your acoustic neuroma is small and not causing any symptoms, your doctor may recommend holding off on treatment, and monitoring the tumor for changes. Because your tumor can grow and change, it will be important to follow up with your doctor as scheduled.
If your acoustic neuroma is very large, your doctor may recommend removing all or part of it through surgery. The surgery will be done in a hospital, while you are asleep and comfortable. You’ll need to expect to spend about a week in the hospital recovering, followed by 4-8 weeks recovering at home.
Another acoustic neuroma treatment option is Gamma Knife radiosurgery. This is an advanced form of radiation therapy that can treat the tumor while sparing healthy surrounding cells. There’s no hospital stay, and you are awake through the procedure. You may feel tired or have a headache at first, but most patients are back to work and normal activity levels within a day or two. Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used alone or following surgery, and it is a great option for people who cannot undergo surgery or who simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option.
3. Communicate with Your Doctor
Having open, honest communication with your doctor is one of the best ways to have confidence in this whole process. Are you worried about something? Do you have questions? Let your doctor know. He or she is going to work with you to develop the most effective treatment plan for your individual situation. It’s part of your doctor’s job to help you feel comfortable as you move forward after an acoustic neuroma diagnosis. Don’t hesitate to stop him or her and ask for clarification if you’re unsure about something. It’s going to help you have peace of mind and know your health is in good hands.
4. Stay Positive
This can be one of those “easier said than done” things, but try to stay positive. You might be scared right now. You could feel angry, frustrated and/or overwhelmed. These are natural reactions to any major medical diagnosis. If you start feeling dragged down, try doing something you enjoy. Go outdoors, visit friends or just settle in with a TV show you love and do something to relax. Tap into that support network. Continue to educate yourself. Pamper yourself a bit. Soothe your mind, body and soul and focus your energy in positive ways as much as you can.
Moving Forward After Your Acoustic Neuroma Diagnosis
It’s up to you at this point where you go from here. You’ve taken a positive step and spent time learning more about your acoustic neuroma diagnosis. Continue educating yourself and carry what you’ve learned into your next conversation with your personal doctor. Be sure to express any concerns you may have and ask questions. Your doctor will help make sure you are comfortable and confident as you move forward so you can focus on what matters most: your health.