Her family knew something was wrong, but Debbie kept insisting she was fine. In the spring 2008, she started having vision problems and severe headaches, but refused to see a doctor. Finally, her husband Ken -- by arranging an appointment without her knowing -- managed to get her to the optician.
What the optician found was alarming: Debbie had massive tissue damage and swelling behind her left eye. She was immediately referred to specialists at Fletcher Allen, and had an MRI. The next day, Bruce Tranmer, M.D., Fletcher Allen neurosurgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, confirmed the diagnosis: Debbie had a brain tumor.
Fortunately, the tumor, called a meningioma, was non-cancerous. It was located in the left front lobe and affected Debbie’s reasoning, thus she hadn’t been able to recognize her symptoms or personality change.
"It was the best day of my husband’s life and the worst day," Debbie said. "He was so happy to find out because it was like: ‘OK, now we know what’s wrong with her. Now we can fix it.’ It was bittersweet for him."
Dr. Tranmer performed a bifrontal craniotomy and successfully removed the tumor, which was the size of a large peach. He told Debbie it likely had been growing for five years or more.
Throughout her stay at Fletcher Allen, Debbie praised the care and personal attention she received from everyone she came into contact with -- from the housekeepers to the nurses to Dr. Tranmer. "The care was of the highest quality," she said.
After her surgery, Debbie recovered very quickly. Her caregivers predicted it would take a year for her to return to work; she was back at 16 weeks on a modified schedule.
Today, she’s 100 percent back to normal. She’s incredibly thankful to have her life back -- and enjoys her favorite activities: mountain biking, swimming, attending her children’s hockey games and dance performances.
Her friends and family are happy too. "My husband has said, ‘I’m so happy to have my best friend back,'" Debbie said.
"When you have a life-altering experience like this, it makes you really appreciate the little things in life, the very, very small things," she added. "I’m just grateful to be here."