Rare tumor slows IT specialist down, but he's not out
April 18, 2013
Charles "Chuck" Pennington will tell you serving in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years was tough, but nothing in his military career prepared him for the fight he faced as a civilian.
It all began in 2007, when friends noticed frequent abnormal facial spasms and suggested he see a doctor.
"I had the symptoms for years, the facial expressions and headaches. It turns out I was having mild seizures and didn't know it," said Pennington, an information technology specialist at Army Contracting Command headquarters, Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
After an MRI, his neurologist initially diagnosed Pennington with an enlarged blood vessel and provided a prescription for seizure medicine. For five years the issue seemed under control - then the frequent headaches returned.
"This time I recognized the symptoms and saw the doctor quickly," said Pennington. "The doctor ordered a new MRI and the next thing I knew they were telling me there was a tumor and I needed to see a neurosurgeon immediately," recalled Pennington, 35.
Once under the care of the neurosurgeon, Pennington discovered that the previous diagnosis of an enlarged blood vessel was incorrect and that it was a tumor the entire time.
"For six years I was misdiagnosed and had a tumor growing inside my brain. If I hadn't gone back to the doctor and had the second MRI it could have grown too large for surgery," said Pennington.
He explained that the tumor growth was visible on the MRI.
"In 2007, it was 3.2 centimeters; on the 2012 MRI it measured 3.7 centimeters. The neurosurgeon said it was growing toward the stem of my brain and surgery was needed immediately."
Electing to act quickly, Pennington's family came to his side and he had surgery less than a month later. The operation took six hours and afterward required an additional procedure, along with 12 weeks of recovery.
"My neurosurgeon was able to completely remove the tumor and sent it to Johns Hopkins Medicine for pathology. The test results showed there are only 27 published cases of this type of tumor so it doesn't even have a name," explained Pennington. "After going through all of this I firmly believe you have to be honest with yourself and your doctor. If you are not happy with the way things are going you need to get a second opinion."
Pennington's tumor is considered low-grade so he didn't need chemotherapy or radiation. He's back at work and says he feels like his old self again.
"I'm still under medical supervision," he said. I have reoccurring appointments with my specialists and get an MRI every three months. But I'm feeling great these days and am very thankful for my wonderful friends and family who helped get me through this ordeal."