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What are the symptoms of a brain tumor? Vertigo signaled trouble for bride

Out of the blue, Christina Anderson felt like she was trapped on a merry-go-round. It turned out to be a golf-ball size brain tumor.
Christina Anderson, 24, had surgery to remove a huge brain tumor just three months before her wedding.
Christina Anderson, 24, had surgery to remove a huge brain tumor just three months before her wedding.Courtesy of Christina Anderson
/ Source: TODAY

The bride wore bejeweled Crocs.

The unusual footwear helped steady Christina Anderson as she walked down the aisle this month without the help of a walker — a triumph three months after surgery to remove a golf-ball size brain tumor that suddenly destroyed her balance.

“I was going to crawl down that aisle before I had to use the walker,” Anderson, 24, told TODAY. “It was not an option for me.”

“That is a testament to her determination and will,” said Dr. Manish Sharma, her neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota. “People who want to get better, they get better, regardless of the odds.”

Anderson wore these special Crocs during her wedding because she was "not very coordinated" while wearing shoes with heels after her brain tumor health scare.Courtesy Christina Anderson

The two first met in early May, just days after Anderson began experiencing frightening symptoms.

The nurse, who lives in Watertown, South Dakota, was busy working and planning her wedding — set for Aug. 10 — when out of the blue, she developed vertigo so severe that she felt like she was trapped on a merry-go-round.

As the room seemed to spin around her, she vomited constantly. She couldn’t walk in a straight line, always veering to the left, and she couldn’t drive.

Anderson shares a happy moment with her now husband Brandon Jensen after her graduation from Lake Area Technical Institute in 2018. Her brain tumor was discovered just months later.Courtesy Christina Anderson

Anderson sought help at a local hospital, where she underwent a CT scan.

“It took the doctors a really, really long time to come in so I knew something was up,” she recalled. “The doctor came up and sat by my side and said, ‘I found a brain tumor.’ At that point, I knew what it meant but I was kind of in denial because I didn’t really understand the severity of it.”

The tumor, two inches in diameter, was located behind her right ear and was compressing the brain stem, responsible for swallowing, breathing and consciousness, Sharma said.

The highlighted area of Anderson's brain scan shows the golf-ball sized tumor.Courtesy Mayo Clinic Health System

Anderson’s father drove her to Mayo, where Sharma told her the scans and her symptoms meant she was critically sick and needed surgery right away. Doctors worried the tumor might be cancer, but tests showed it was benign — a hemangioblastoma. Still, left untreated, it would continue to grow and kill her, Sharma said.

It’s usually not known why people develop this type of tumor — “just bad luck,” Sharma said. About a quarter of cases are linked with a genetic syndrome, but Anderson tested negative for those genetic changes.

As she prepared for surgery, she thought about her upcoming wedding. Delaying it was not an option, she firmly said. Everything was already set — the church, the venue, the DJ — and she had no intention to change the date.

But one big worry remained.

“I asked Dr. Sharma if they’d have to chop any hair off and he said yes. That was the part that I was stuck on the most because I was like, I’m getting married in August, I can’t have my hair missing,” Anderson recalled.

Five days after learning she had a brain tumor, Sharma removed it during an eight-hour surgery on May 7.

The mass looked like a big collection of blood vessels with a central nodule that seemed to pulsate with every heartbeat, Sharma said. Such vascular tumors are extra dangerous to extricate because they can hemorrhage. He removed the mass, plus parts of adjacent diseased brain tissue that might sprout tumors later in the future.

Waking up, Anderson remembers being in a lot of pain and feeling weak. But she had an important question for her surgeon.

“I asked him how much hair he had to chop off. That was my very first question out of anesthesia,” she said.

“Usually, he’s a head shaver… because it’s infection control,” Anderson noted, but it turned out Sharma only shaved about half her head — somewhat of a relief.

Anderson had to use a walker right after surgery, but she was determined to not have to use it during her wedding.Courtesy Christina Anderson

The worry now was whether she’d be able to walk down the aisle during her wedding just three months away. Sharma wasn’t sure if her balance would get better by August, but she was determined, especially when faced with the prospect of using a walker.

“I used it in the hospital and they sent it home with me and I just kept hiding it,” Anderson recalled. Being able to leave the walker behind became her motivation and she worked hard to make it happen.

On Aug. 10, she walked down the aisle on her own — in her bejeweled crocs to feel steadier — and married Brandon Jensen. A hair piece and strategic hairdo covered the scar on her head. A honeymoon in the Bahamas followed.

Anderson dances with her husband Brandon Jensen during their wedding in in Fairmont, Minnesota, on Aug. 10.Courtesy Christina Anderson

“He was super, super supportive through it all,” Anderson said.

“One of the most adorable couples I’ve seen. He never left her bedside at night,” Sharma said.

Anderson is now feeling well, she said, and has resumed a normal life though she’s restricted from doing activities like skydiving, scuba diving or parasailing. She’ll also require life-long surveillance with regular MRIs to make sure the tumor doesn’t grow back.

The human brain has a great capacity to heal, especially when patients feel wanted and loved, Sharma noted.

“People can will themselves into getting better,” he said.