"I have enjoyed following the stories of your photographs of people and their stories. It always makes me think of my daughter and what she has been through this year. She would make a beautiful subject for 7 Billion Ones. Olivia is 22 years old and had surgery in October for an acoustic neuroma which is a rare brain tumor for someone her age. Along with the total loss of hearing in her right ear, She also suffered the loss of her facial nerve on the right side of her face. This is a pretty tough thing for a 22 year old to handle. She has handled it with grace and courage. She hopes that somehow her experiences will help someone else. At first, she didn't want any pictures of herself taken. Even though we told her we thought she was beautiful anyway but a couple of weeks ago, she took a selfie and posted it on Facebook. A very brave act and it made me think, maybe you would be interested in her story. I just wanted to put it out there because we think she is pretty amazing. Keep doing what you do.. You are truly making a difference! Thank you. (original email message from Olivia's mother, Becky)
My name is Olivia. I am 22 and in the summer of 2015 I found out that I have an acoustic neuroma, which is a benign tumor. Mine was the size of a golf ball which is on the large side of the spectrum when it comes to average tumor size. This was a little scary to hear because the larger the tumor is, the longer the surgery takes. I couldn't imagine being under anesthesia for up to twelve hours.
Up until this point in my life, I was a very healthy person and I never had to have surgery or anything like this done so finding out that I had a brain tumor seemed pretty unreal to me. I cried a lot for probably the first two weeks after I found out about my tumor. I cried about the fact that I wouldn't be able to go back to school in the fall. I don't know why, but not going back to school seemed like the worst thing in the world to me at that point in time. Now looking back on it, I don't know why I let myself get so worked up about that. I think it was just the fact that my life was going to change pretty drastically. I wasn't going to get to go back to school after summer break like all of the other normal college students. I was convinced that I was going to lose my job because I was going to have to ask off work for up to eight weeks. My life was not going to be normal anymore and that really freaked me out.
There are a few nerves that can be affected by having this tumor removed and those are the balance nerve, the hearing nerve, and the facial nerve. I learned that I would lose all hearing in my right ear and I could have facial paralysis on the right side of my face. I'm 22 and could look like I've had a stroke for the rest of my life after this surgery. This was by far the most terrifying news that I heard about my surgery.
So after months of knowing that I had this tumor, we finally scheduled my surgery, and the wait was horrible. I was scared of the unknown, of how my surgery would go, and mainly scared that I was going to end up with facial paralysis. The surgery day finally came along and up to that point, I had nothing but support from friends, family, and even from people I didn't know. I knew that morning of, I had a prayer army that was bigger than I could have ever imagined! This whole time my doctors had been telling my family and I that this surgery would last up to twelve hours...it lasted sixteen!
I don't remember much from the first couple of days after my surgery. My parents said I was throwing up a lot. I just picture like a scene from the film "The Exorcist". I was in the ICU for a few days and I got excited when my nurses would ask if I wanted to try walking around the hospital a little bit because I just wanted to get better. I wanted to go to physical therapy and be able to walk again rather than be in a wheelchair.
During surgery, my facial nerve stopped showing that it was active so my doctors stopped operating on me. I did end up getting facial paralysis and my doctor's didn't get all of the tumor out. On top of all of that, I got a blood clot in my carotid artery during surgery so I've been on a blood thinner ever since. This is not common when performing acoustic neuroma surgeries. It's been over three months since my surgery and my right facial nerve has not started working yet. Hopefully, it will come back on it's own, but if it doesn't, I can get a facial nerve graft that will help the right side of my face to start working again.
I have been really self conscious about this and have not wanted to take very many pictures or anything, but I have tried to stay positive post surgery. I remember reading this message, in the hospital, that a lady sent to my mom who had also had an acoustic neuroma. She was this beautiful woman who had also gotten facial paralysis from the surgery and her story brought me to tears because she was such an inspiration. I'm not a super emotional person either so the fact that I was crying while reading her story says a lot. She had such an impact on me, I even am crying now as I write this.
When I got better and feeling up to it, my mom and her set up a time for us all to meet. She has inspired me to have a positive outlook after everything that happened. I've had a lot of support from a lot of different people, but she is the one who sticks out to me the most and I didn't even know her pre surgery.
It would be so easy for me to just be depressed and wonder why this had to happen to me. I chose a different route. I wanted people to see that even after something this horrible could happen to me, I could become stronger than I had ever been because of it. I wanted to be an inspiration to others just as that woman was to me. I've had so many people tell me how amazing my attitude has been through this all and that's all that I want to hear and if there's anyone else who I could help through an acoustic neuroma surgery just like that lady did for me, I would know that it all was worth it. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that God gives certain situations to people for a reason. I got an acoustic neuroma because I wasn't going to let that get me down. I took that horrible situation and tried to turn it into something positive. I want to help people who have brain tumors. I want to give them hope that it's all going to be okay and that you can't dwell on things in your life. You need to do what you can to make bad situations into positive ones. Life is beautiful, you can't let something like a brain tumor ruin it :)