Dawne Gee talks about surgery to remove brain tumor

Published: Nov. 5, 2009 at 5:51 AM EST|Updated: May. 14, 2010 at 12:58 PM EDT
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Dr. Jonathan Hodes
Dr. Jonathan Hodes

By Lori Lyle
Edited By Mike Dever - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If there's one thing we all love about Dawne Gee, it is the fact that what you see is what you get. For six years, Dawne has made no secret of the fact that she has been battling a brain tumor. Though not cancerous, she recently made the difficult decision to undergo a risky surgery to remove it. Now she is sharing the rest of the story.

"I said to my OB/GYN 'Something is bizarre here. I'm lactating," Dawne recalls. "He came back in the room and said: 'I want you to take an MRI of your head.'"

Anchoring the news each night, Dawne is well acquainted with the bizarre, tragic and the scary, but she was completely unprepared for the news she was given at the most inopportune time.

"It is seven minutes 'til five. I'm walking with my cell phone, as you all see me do so many times, to the studio, and he tells me before I sit in that chair: 'You have a brain tumor.'"

Completely caught off guard, Dawne struggled to keep it together just minutes before she was to anchor the 5 o'clock newscast.

"So in my head I'm saying over and over again, don't cry, 'cause you can't cry," Dawne recalled. "I can't cry, so I'll just sit here and do the news."

But first she had to share the news with her co-workers.

"So I told Jackie, and Jackie looked at me like 'You're crazy!' And I was like 'I just found out.' And she just took me by the hand and said: 'Let's white knuckle through this.'"

Thankfully, the tumor wasn't cancerous, but it brought consequences. "I've been lactating for six years," Dawne said.

The tumor, a pituitary adenoma, was forcing Dawne's hormones out of control and causing painful headaches.

"And then my neurosurgeon said: 'This is what you're stuck with. You're a 46-year-old with a pituitary adenoma. You're gonna lactate, you're gonna have the hormones, you're gonna have the headaches. This is your life.' And I said. 'This sucks. I want it out.'"

The tumor's location made removing it problematic. It meant a risky surgery for a tumor that wasn't necessarily life-threatening. But Dawne says six years of nonstop medications to control the tumor and its side effects was interfering with her quality of life.

"I was always at the doctor," Dawne said. "And I had a bag of medication. I bet you I took 20 different medications at night."

Finally, Dawne decided to have the surgery. It was one of the most difficult - and frightening - decisions of her life.

"When they look at you and tell you that there is a chance of stroke or death - but that can happen in probably just about any surgery," Dawne said.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Jonathan Hodes at Baptist Hospital East helped ease Dawne's fears.

"When I met Dr. Hodes, he was really very, very certain and very reassuring we can get this pituitary adenoma."

Dr. Hodes relies on cutting-edge medical technology, including the use of high definition cameras, to get to tumors in hard-to-reach areas like the one so deeply rooted in Dawne's brain.

"This newer technology allows us to access things that were more difficult to  access previously and with a greater level of confidence in not destroying tissue," Hodes said.

It's not an uncommon diagnosis and Dr. Hodes has been performing about 50 of these surgeries a year, and in Dawne's case, the surgery was non-invasive.

"This surgery is what is called an expanded endonasal approach to the skull base," Hodes explained.

"Basically we go through the sinus, through the air-containing sinuses, in order to get to the base of the skull," Hodes said.

Recalling the day of the surgery, Dawne remembers feeling blessed.

"Every one of my family was there with me," Dawne said with tears in her eyes. "Sorry for getting so emotional. But it was so important. So when I looked around and saw everybody and knew that God had already given me a good life, you know?"

Thankfully, after three hours of surgery, and a 3-day hospital stuff, that good life continued for Dawne, with the promise of better days ahead.

"The day I left the hospital I said: 'What do I take?' And they looked at everything and just started crossing stuff off the list and I thought holy cow!"

My hormone levels were just nutty," Dawne said. "Now when I left the hospital most of my hormone levels had actually gone back down to normal."

The perfect attendance student in Dawne is admittedly struggling with the time it takes to recover from brain surgery.

"I don't like to miss work," Dawne said.

With the surgery and the tumor now behind her, Dawne is thankful for the opportunity to return to work and especially grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

"I don't think I could be more blessed to have people that watch and care," Dawne said. "So I appreciate that.... I'm so blessed, and one of my blessings is to be able to work in this community - to do the news and to hopefully make a difference, not just sit there and give stories."

Dawne plans to return to work the week of Nov. 9.

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