Sink, a Bradley County EMT and practice administrator with Physicians Services of Cleveland, decided to share his medical condition with Banner readers in the May 22 Lifestyles section.
His courage in documenting the procedure and treatment of his second and worse abnormal growth in his pituitary gland is an effort to bring greater awareness to brain tumors — a condition with which more than 60,000 adults and children will be diagnosed this year.
After going to his eye doctor in May and discovering a pituitary adenoma laying on his optic nerve, Sink was placed under the care of Dr. Peter Boehm, a neurological surgeon. Sink detailed what happened on June 3 at 11 a.m. when he had his MRI at the office of Dr. Boehm.
“Interestingly, I slept through most of the MRI. Even though it was in a loud, closed-in tunnel, I managed to sleep,” he said. “After the MRI, I walked back to the dressing area and past Dr. Boehm, who was talking to two other men I did not know.
“The dressing room is just a closet with a curtain with no sound barriers. I heard the three men talking about a patient. They are using phrases to describe a patient’s condition — things like ‘huge tumor,’ ‘scar tissue’ and ‘traditional methods won’t work.’ I am thinking to myself I hope the person they are talking about is not me!”
When Sink heard Boehm say the patient had previous surgery in November 2005, his heart sank. It was him.
Trying to camouflage his fear, Sink walked towards them, smiled and said, “Gentlemen, you should not talk about your patient like that when he is within earshot.”
Boehm then introduced Sink to Drs. Michael Gallagher and Phillip Megison, partners in the Chattanooga Neurosurgical Group.
“I recognized their names as those of well-respected and renowned neurosurgeons. Dr. Boehm explained he has asked them to look at my MRI with him and he shows me what he calls a ‘mega-tumor,’ in the space where my pituitary gland should be.”
The doctors measured it at 21 millimeters which is too big for the space it is in. The three doctors explained that Sink’s 2005 surgery left him with scar tissue that may make the next surgery difficult. There is a chance they may have to do a craniotomy to remove the tumor.
A craniotomy is a cut that opens the cranium. During the surgical procedure, a section of the skull is removed to access the brain underneath. The section is usually replaced after the procedure with tiny plates and screws. A craniotomy may be large or small depending on the problem.
Sink said he was stoic, handling the news like a business deal, as he told the three surgeons his wife was in the waiting room and would like them to explain things to her as well.
“Nickie walks into the room and like some mystical spell is cast over me, my lower lip starts to quiver and Niagara Falls starts flowing from my eyes,” admits Sink.
The first day all three neurosurgeons and an ear, nose and throat specialist can be in the operating room together is June 23. That is when the surgery is set. Sink admits he is nervous. The plan doesn’t leave much time to plan. But it leaves plenty of time for soul-searching and hope.
“Part of me feels honored to have three of the region’s finest surgeons at my disposal and then I think with anxiety that I need four physicians for my procedure!
“Dr. Gallagher comforts me when he says he will be out of town the week before my surgery because he will be attending a seminar on pituitary adenomas. Hopefully, he will bring back the newest ideas on treatment and management of this disease and finally rid me of it,” Sink said.
The Cyber Knife, the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors throughout the body non-invasively, is a new radiation tool all three surgeons said will follow Sink’s surgery.
It will be used to target any remaining tumor tissue and destroy it with radiation to reduce the opportunity for re-growth.
“They’re going to put me on Decadron, a steroid, three times a day for 10 days prior to the surgery to shrink my brain,” said Sink. “Hopefully, it will create a space between the tumor and my brain to remove the tumor.”
According to Sink, the rapid growth of the tumor and the expeditious approach to removing it can create feelings of ambivalence, let alone feeling somewhat overwhelmed.
“If you want to see someone going through every emotion simultaneously, see me,” said Sink. “Anger — as in, why me? Fear, anxiety, sadness, happiness that I have the support of family and friends, and access to great physicians. But what I would appreciate most from everyone is their prayers.”
Sink has spent the last 32 years working on an ambulance with Bradley County EMS. He has been the practice administrator for Physician Services of Cleveland PC for the past 25 years.
The 52-year-old Detroit native chose to share his personal health care story to encourage others to seek medical attention when symptoms start, and to reduce some of the anxiety associated with the lack of health care knowledge.
His hopes are that by putting a face on this condition that occurs in more than 575 people a day, or approximately 210,000 people each year in the U.S., he will reduce people’s fear and anxiety and encourage others to seek treatment and speak up about what they are experiencing.
For further information, visit the America Brain Tumor Association at www.abta.org.