Getting the Diagnosis of a Brain Tumor at Age 18
After a series of seizures, college student Symon Ballor was diagnosed with a ganglioglioma. He shares his story — and advice for other patients.
I had a lot of expectations for trying out new things during my first year of college, but having brain surgery wasn’t one of them.
I had very minor seizures in high school, but then in my first semester of college they got worse. Sometimes, I’d end up on the street while walking to class, or I’d have a seizure right in class. Luckily, my friends would watch out for me when they could.
My worst seizure was the one that put me in the hospital. I blacked out, couldn’t control my actions and had no recollection of what happened.
I went to a neurologist in Alpena, Michigan, who ordered an MRI, which found a mass in my brain. They prescribed a medication to keep the seizures away, but nothing helped. Then in January of this year, during my second semester at school, I was referred to Shawn Hervey-Jumper, M.D., at the University of Michigan.
After he examined me and looked at the tests, he said that he thought the best thing to do would be to drop my second semester, get my financial aid back and move forward with surgery to remove the tumor, a ganglioglioma.
I felt so comfortable with Dr. Hervey-Jumper — he was so knowledgeable and he talked to me like a friend — that my parents and I decided to have the operation.
Brain surgery and recovery
My surgery was on Feb. 3, 2016. I had a craniotomy to remove the tumor lodged deep within my temporal lobe. Amazingly, I was in the hospital for only two nights and then went home. For about a week I felt as if I’d been through, well, brain surgery.
But I quickly felt better, and the first thing I wanted to do was get back on my feet. After about a week, I got up and started moving and then got back in the groove as fast as I could.
I went to work full time in April, on the grounds crew of Old Orchard Park. This lets me work outdoors, which is something I love. And in August, I’ll be going back to Lake Superior State University to continue my degree in forestry.
My doctors say that a ganglioglioma is a low-grade tumor that we will need to watch with brain MRIs for many years. But it doesn’t require any chemotherapy or radiation. And best of all, my seizures are controlled now so I should be able to go back to school and focus on studying hard.
Advice for brain surgery patients
Hopefully, you’ll never face what I had to face. But in case you do, here’s my advice for dealing with a diagnosis.
Don’t freak out. In fact, don’t even think about it. When I did, my stress went through the roof.
Remember that you really can’t control the situation. Follow your doctor’s orders. They really do know what’s best. I was lucky because my doctor made me feel safe and comfortable.
Don’t drink. It’s not going to help.
Don’t drive. Obviously, when you’re having seizures you’re not allowed to drive, but take your doctor seriously when they tell you this.
Pray. I prayed, and I had my entire family, people from church — people I didn’t even know — praying for me. It helped so much to know people cared.
Remember: It is possible to make the best out of every situation. Even something like this. You can make it fun or get something cool out of it. After the surgery, I asked the surgeons for a photo of my brain — actually, the before and after shots. I put them on my cellphone. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you might as well do it if you’re going to have to go through it.