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Personal trainer, 29, discovers her dizzy spells are due to a brain tumour

A personal trainer’s dizziness turned out to be a brain tumour that needed removing during a ten-hour operation that she was kept awake for.

Nichole Bates, from Minnesota, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma tumour in  the front left side of her brain in July this year.

The 29-year-old experienced dizzy spells up to three times a day which caused her to retch multiple times a day. She also suffered from fatigue.

But she never imagined it would be due to cancer because she was physically fit and training at the gym five times a week, competing in bikini competitions. 

Mrs Bates had to be awake during the operation to remove 85 per cent of the tumour so that surgeons could make sure they weren’t causing brain damage.

She has been having chemotherapy to kill the remaining tumour ever since, and is slowly getting back into her training regime. 

Nichole Bates, 29, from Minnesota, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma tumour at the front left side of her brain this year. She is pictured during a bikini competition in 2018

The diagnosis came as a shock to Mrs Bates, who was physically fit and in the gym constantly

The diagnosis came as a shock to Mrs Bates, who was physically fit and in the gym constantly

Mrs Bates' tumour was removed during a ten-hour operation. She was awake the whole time

Mrs Bates’ tumour was removed during a ten-hour operation. She was awake the whole time

Surgeons removed 85 per cent of the tumour (pictured in scans)

Surgeons removed 85 per cent of the tumour (pictured in scans)

Mrs Bates, who describes herself as a health and wellness coach and is a believer in God, said: ‘I never expected to fight this big battle.

‘I got into wellness because I wanted to help others change unhealthy habits and develop issues due to poor health choices. 

‘I have always taken great care of myself but after being diagnosed with cancer, it’s shocking how hard workers still face things we can’t control.’

Mrs Bates enjoyed working out to reach her goal of competing as an international professional bikini bodybuilder in 2018. But earlier this year she started to suffer symptoms.

She said: ‘I was experiencing spit up episodes and felt very dizzy one to three times during the day at work or after work.  

‘I had to spit up in a cup or in the toilet and it was just saliva, there was no vomit. The more it happened the more fatigued I would get and needed to take naps to recover.’ 

Mrs Bates, who has been married to Davis for four years, didn’t think too much of the symptoms.

But as they continued, she also found herself needing to take naps every day to fight them off and beat her fatigue.

By July 9, Mrs Bates decided she should go to hospital to get checked over. She was diagnosed with cancer the same day after tests, she claims.

Mrs Bates, who describes herself as a health and wellness coach, said: 'I never expected to fight this big battle.' She is pictured before her diagnosis

Mrs Bates, who describes herself as a health and wellness coach, said: ‘I never expected to fight this big battle.’ She is pictured before her diagnosis 

On July 9, Mrs Bates went to hospital and had an MRI and biopsy. Later that day, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She is pictured after surgery

On July 9, Mrs Bates went to hospital and had an MRI and biopsy. Later that day, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She is pictured after surgery

The astrocytoma was located in the front left side of Mrs Bates' head, impacting the frontal, temporal lobe, and basal ganglia part of the brain. Pictured, after surgery

The astrocytoma was located in the front left side of Mrs Bates’ head, impacting the frontal, temporal lobe, and basal ganglia part of the brain. Pictured, after surgery

Mrs Bates, pictured with her husband of four years, Davis, said thinking about the operation at the Mayo Clinic was 'overwhelming'

Mrs Bates, pictured with her husband of four years, Davis, said thinking about the operation at the Mayo Clinic was ‘overwhelming’

She said: ‘The doctor working with me had me complete an MRI right away and discovered a mass in my brain that she believed was a tumour and was most likely cancerous.

‘Then she sent me to a hospital in Minneapolis to work with the oncology team to complete a biopsy and determine the astrocytoma cancer. 

WHAT ARE ASTROCYTOMAS? 

Astrocytomas are one of the most common forms of brain tumours, making up around a third of UK cases, according to The Brain Tumour Charity.

They grow from cells called astrocytes, which protect nerves and are vital for processing information.

There is nothing that people can do to prevent astrocytomas and their cause is unknown. Research is looking into whether it is genetic.  

Astrocytomas are graded from 1-4 depending on how quickly they grow and how they respond to treatment.

Treatment depends on the grade, with 1-2 often involving surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible.

Radio or chemotherapy may be given to kill any remaining cancerous cells.

Astrocytomas are the most common type of primary brain tumour within the group called gliomas. 

The symptoms of glioma vary by tumor type as well as the tumor’s size, location and rate of growth.

Common signs include:

  • Difficulty with balance 
  • Headache 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Confusion or a decline in brain function 
  • Memory loss 
  • Personality changes or irritability 
  • Urinary incontinence 
  • Vision problems, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision 
  • Speech difficulties 
  • Seizures, especially in someone without a history of seizures 

‘The astrocytoma is mutated and it responds well to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy but is constantly developing.’ 

An estimated 23,820 American adults will be diagnosed with primary cancerous tumours of the brain and spinal cord this year. 

Brain and central nervous system cancers are the ninth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for three per cent of all new cancer cases, according to Cancer Research UK. 

Astrocytomas are the most common type of primary brain tumour within the group called gliomas.

As with most brain tumours, the cause is not known. Scientists believe genes may be to blame. 

Survival depends on the grade of the tumour – more than 90 per cent of patients with a low grade one tumour will survive for five years, compared to only five per cent with a high grade four mass. 

It is not clear which grade Mrs Bates had, but she needed to have surgery around six weeks later.

Mrs Bates said: ‘After completing the surgery for the biopsy, I felt more confident in the upcoming surgery’s ability to heal from this brain cancer. 

The neurologist who completed Mrs Bates’ biopsy referred her to his mentor surgeon at the Mayo Clinic for an awake craniotomy on August 23, 2019. 

It allows surgeons to know which brain areas control functions such as language, speech and motor skills, so that they can be avoided. 

‘The surgery took 10 hours to complete,’ Mrs Bates said.

‘My emotions were very high because experiencing an awake surgery is overwhelming. I don’t remember much of the surgery but I followed directions to help the surgeon.  

After a week in hospital, Mrs Bates started six weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy on September 16 to diminish the remaining tumour. Her hair loss and surgery scar is pictured

After a week in hospital, Mrs Bates started six weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy on September 16 to diminish the remaining tumour. Her hair loss and surgery scar is pictured

Mrs Bates was awake during her surgery so doctors could be more precise. She said: 'They wanted to make sure they didn't damage any of my motor speech areas'

Mrs Bates was awake during her surgery so doctors could be more precise. She said: ‘They wanted to make sure they didn’t damage any of my motor speech areas’

‘The fact that the surgery was completed with me awake was incredible because it allowed my surgeon to know where to operate and how it would impact my brain the most.

‘My tumour was located in the front left side of my head also impacting frontal, temporal lobe, and basal ganglia part of my brain and that impacted things like my eyes, my speech and other really important functions.

‘They wanted to make sure they didn’t damage any of my motor speech areas or any large blood vessels. 

‘So, they left the parts of the tumour that were close to those areas so they wouldn’t damage anything in an attempt to remove the tumour.’ 

After a week in hospital, Mrs Bates started six weeks of combined radiation and oral chemotherapy on September 16 to diminish the remaining tumour. 

She finished this in October, but will continue with chemotherapy for the next six months while having MRI scans every two months to assess the size of the tumour.

She said: ‘An astrocytoma can grow back and require additional treatments in the future. 

‘However, the surgeon who discovered my astrocytoma told me that because of my age, health, and how medicine is continuing to evolve, a solution will be created to remove it and heal me fully.’

Mrs Bates said: 'The fact that the surgery was completed with me awake was incredible'

Mrs Bates said: ‘The fact that the surgery was completed with me awake was incredible’

Mrs Bates, pictured before her diagnosis, is working on becoming fitter again

Mrs Bates, pictured before her diagnosis, is working on becoming fitter again

Part of the reason Mrs Bates got involved with wellness coaching was because she enjoyed helping others progress.

But after defeating a cancer diagnosis she now understands that even the healthiest people can face battles beyond their control. 

She said: ‘I am stronger and braver than I ever knew. 

‘As a health coach, it’s so important to me to teach people nutrition and exercise-related concepts, as well as teaching self-care and how to manage stress, but I’ve now experienced this new level of myself.’

She is also back in the gym, slowly building back up her fitness with strength training she always enjoyed.

She said: ‘It’s shown me that you don’t know a person’s journey before you learn – never judge. Someone who lifted 100 pounds might only be able to lift two pounds right now but things will come with time and effort.

‘Today, I am still into fitness and working with my body as much as I can. I work out three times a week at a level my body can handle. However, I won’t give up on my goals and I’m slowly increasing weights.’

To see more, visit Mrs Bates’ Instagram here.  

CAN YOU HAVE BRAIN SURGERY WHILE AWAKE?

Awake brain surgery, also known as awake craniotomy, is a type of operation that requires a person to be alert while under the knife. 

An awake craniotomy may be carried out to treat a tumour in an area of the brain that controls vision, movement or speech.

It ensures the surgeon treats the correct area of the brain while lowering the risk of damage to the region that controls language, speech and motor skills.

It can be difficult to pinpoint these areas before surgery, while an awake operation allows a surgeon to know which areas of the brain controls these functions so they can be avoided.

The procedure starts by a patient taking medication that makes them sleepy, before numbing drugs are applied to the scalp.

The doctor will then remove part of the skull to reach the brain. 

During the surgery, sedative medications are stopped to allow the patient to wake up.

The patient may then be asked questions, told to move, count or identify pictures off a card. 

This helps the surgeon identify and avoid ‘functional’ areas of the brain. 

Some of the risks include: 

  • Vision, speech or learning problems
  • Seizures 
  • Memory loss
  • Poor balance or co-ordination
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • Leaking spinal fluid
  • Weak muscles 

 Source: Mayo Clinic



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