This comes as no surprise to David Sink Sr. who was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma tumor 10 days ago after recovering from an earlier brain tumor discovered in November 2005.
Sink, the practice administrator with Physicians Services of Cleveland for the past 25 years and a Bradley County EMS worker for the past 32 years, decided to share his past and present condition with the public during Brain Tumor Awareness Month which, ironically, is the month he discovered the most recent abnormal growth in his pituitary gland.
Sink, one of the most respected, self-sacrificing and courageous professionals in Bradley County, said “Showing people that they are not alone in their fight — that communicating with people about the symptoms of a brain tumor and getting those symptoms addressed is very important.”
Although most people often fight this fight privately, Sink felt it was crucial to go public to raise awareness about brain tumors because few people know how common they are. In the U.S. alone, more than 575 people a day, or approximately 210,000 people each year, are diagnosed with a primary or metastatic brain tumor.
Because brain tumors are located at the control center for thought, emotion and movement, their effects on an individual’s physical and cognitive abilities can be devastating.
Sink said his initial experience started shortly after he and a group of men and women returned from a disaster relief effort in Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina had demolished the area in 2005.
“The devastation was beyond description,” he said. “The debris, the stench — everything nasty and rotting was there. We had set up a clinic in front of a Vietnamese Catholic church. Dr. Jerry DeVane and I volunteered to stay at night at the clinic to provide security. The mosquitoes were awful.
“I slept in my car and woke up with hundreds of bites. When we returned to Cleveland I started to get sick. My first thoughts was that I contracted something from those mosquitoes. I had the worse headache of my life and I vomited all night.”
A trip to the Emergency Center at Bradley Memorial (now SkyRidge Medical Center) revealed his symptoms had nothing to do with those mosquito bites. Dr. Beth Schnars, the emergency physician that day, ordered a CT Scan and did not like what she saw. She had watery eyes.
Sink knew from her reaction it was not good. His immediate trip to see Dr. Walter Boehm, a neurosurgeon, was no better. An MRI in Dr. Boehm’s office revealed Sink had a pituitary adenoma, a slow-growing tumor that arise from cells in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain.
Pituitary adenomas are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. They do not spread to other parts of the body. The growths can lead to vision problems because it is near the eyes. It can also disrupt the hormonal balance of the thyroid, adrenal, and gonads.
Dr. Boehm told Sink, “We need to cut it out.”
After the surgery, Sink made a remarkable recovery, returning to work in less than a week. Experts say there are few known risk factors for brain tumors and no strategies for early detection. Since the symptoms can be attributed to other conditions, it often lead to delays in a correct diagnosis.
But even when the treatment is successful it can result in damage to the brain and devastating after-affects. Sink is aware of all of this. Now that he is facing another growth on his pituitary gland, he decided to break the news to his family, friends and coworkers, and is rallying their support.
“You know, you go through every emotion in the world,” Sink admits. “There’s fear. There’s sorrow. There’s anger, anxiety — just so many feelings. I remember thinking, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ There’s nothing I did lifestyle-wise that causes pituitary adenoma. In fact, they’re more common than most people realize.”
Pituitary adenomas occur in 1 out of every 1,000 adults. The cause is unknown. According to the National Brain Tumor Society, there are more than 120 different types of tumors, making effective treatment very complicated. No two brain tumors are exactly alike.
Prognosis, or expected outcome, is dependent on several factors including the type of tumor, location, response to treatment, an individual’s age, and overall health status.
“I beat it before and I can beat it again,” said Sink, 52. “I would greatly appreciate the prayers of everyone to help me beat this thing. I know I’m not in the driver’s seat. I don’t drive this bus.”
With tears swelling in his eyes, the Detroit native took a deep breath and exhaled.
“I went to my eye doctor. He has a test that shows when a pituitary adenoma is laying on the optic nerve. He took my old examine and my new examine and it shows I have something a little more extensive going on in there.”
Sink will be under the care of Dr. Peter Boehm, brother to Dr. Walter Boehm who is retired. They will discuss a treatment plan.
“We’re in that stage where nobody likes to be,” Sink said.
According to Sink, the public need to be more aware of the symptoms of brain tumors and think of the logical steps they need to take.
“People have symptoms all the time that they ignore until it’s way too late,” he said. “Probably the biggest is chest pain. Neurological symptoms as well. How many people will recognize that there peripheral vision is missing or their ability to read up close, their headaches and fatigue are related to a brain tumor? It’s time to give this some attention.”
Symptoms of a brain tumor can include headaches (recent, new, or more severe than usual), seizures, personality changes, eye weakness, nausea or vomiting, speech disturbances, or memory loss.
If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, consult your physician. For further information, visit the National Brain Tumor Society at www.braintumor.org/ or the American Brain Tumor Association at www.abta.org.