There were no headaches. There were no fainting spells. There was no dizziness. For months the problem was all in Billi’s right eye. Her ability to read road signs was diminishing, even with her glasses on. A visit to her optometrist in Dayton confirmed the problem: With her left eye closed and looking only with her right eye, she could not read the top line of the eye chart.
Billi’s optometrist gave her a new prescription, with a much stronger lens for the right eye. But a few months later, she began having vision problems again. “At times I caught myself covering my right eye or closing it and driving with one eye open," she recalled. “I went back to Dr. Loesch and told him the prescription change was no longer working. I had also begun to notice, when I looked in the mirror, that my right eye was sticking out more than the left."
Billi was referred to Dr. Steven Miller, an ophthalmologist, who then referred her to another ophthalmologist, Dr. John Fleishman, who ordered an MRI.
On August 11, 2014, Dr. Fleishman called Billi on the phone. "I don't know any other way to say this, but you have a brain tumor," he told her. "You have a mass growing somewhere in your brain, and it's pressing on your optic nerve, and that's why your vision has been blurry. I don't know how fast it's growing, or how long it has been growing, but if it keeps going, it will damage your optic nerve and you will become blind in that eye. I am going to refer you to the best surgeon I know, Dr. Mario Zuccarello, of the Mayfield Clinic and the University of Cincinnati Brain Tumor Center."
Billi underwent surgery at the UC Medical Center on Sept. 9, 2014. "Dr. Zuccarello was expecting to perform a 6-hour surgery, but it took 13 hours," Billi recalls. "Apparently my face had grown extra bone; it was as if my body was trying to protect me from the tumor, almost push it away, not let it get to any area of brain where it could harm me. Dr. Zuccarello had to remove the bone first, then the tumor, then reconstruct the area with titanium mesh. Unlike most tumors, that are round, mine was flat like a hand."
Billi went home to recover with 22 staples in her head and her eye swollen shut. Her jaw didn't open all the way on the right side. A biopsy showed that the tumor was an atypical meningioma. It was benign, but the cells were aggressive. As a result, Dr. Luke Pater, a radiation oncologist who is affiliated with the UC Brain Tumor Center, recommended that Billi undergo radiotherapy at the Precision Radiotherapy Center to better the odds that the tumor would never grow back.
From November 2014 to January 2015, with Dr. Pater now overseeing her care, Billi had 33 treatments at Precision Radiotherapy.
"The Precision Radiotherapy staff was just as caring and compassionate as everyone at the UC Medical Center," Billi says. "My two main radiotherapists were Holly and Joe. They took awesome care of me and are some of the most compassionate people I have ever met."
Before Billi's treatment began, her team fabricated a special clamshell mask that was made to precisely fit Billi and to position her during her treatments.
In preparation for treatment, CT scans and contrast-enhanced MRI scans were taken of Billi with the mask in place. Immediately prior to treatment, with Billi again wearing the mask, additional x-rays were acquired. With Billi aligned on the treatment couch, beams of radiation were delivered in arcs that rotated around the target – the area where the meningioma had been.
"I still have the face mask and will keep it forever," Billi says.
Since her brain surgery and radiotherapy, Billi has done well. Her face looks normal and the stiffness in her jaw has almost completely subsided. She still experiences some cloudiness and swelling in her right eye, but the tumor has been eradicated and her vision is better than it was prior to her treatment. Her follow-up visits have been cut back from every 3 months to every 6.
Best of all, she is back doing all the things she loves: taking care of her children, running her beauty business and performing neo-soul favorites with her beautiful voice. She is also fulfilling a promise she made to herself – and to God -- if her eye and jaw and face were restored: she is sharing her story for the benefit of others and raising money for research through Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure.
'Billi's Story' is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.