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Jennifer Alden

Actress with Brain Tumor Benefits from Brain-Sparing Surgery Technique

 Jennifer Alden

Jennifer Alden discovered her brain tumor by accident, but when it came to planning surgery to remove it, she left nothing to chance. She met with three brain surgeons, and wound up traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco to have the procedure performed by Dr. Mitchel Berger, UCSF's chair of Neurological Surgery. Berger used a technique he developed at UCSF, called brain mapping, to remove only the tumor while sparing healthy tissue around it that was vital to Alden's brain function.

You discovered your brain tumor by accident. Can you share the story?

Last summer, I fell out of a hammock and hit my head. I was worried about concussion, so I went to a doctor and he ordered a CT scan of my brain. Although there were no signs of concussion, the scan did find something odd. My doctor then ordered an MRI, which showed a small brain tumor.

By the way my brain had routed blood vessels around the mass, my doctors guessed the tumor was about 10 years old, meaning it was very slow growing — a good sign.

You could say I was lucky to have fallen on my head because I might not have found it otherwise!

Why did you choose to have the tumor removed at UCSF?

I’d heard great things about Dr. Berger. Of course, brain surgery is a big deal, so I wanted to do my homework first. I interviewed three different surgeons for the job. The first didn’t convey the confidence I was seeking in a brain surgeon. The second was very pushy and assertive, which didn’t appeal to me. The third, Dr. Berger, was clearly the best option.

Like Goldilocks in the children’s story, I met with three surgeons and the last one was just right.

What impressed you about Dr. Berger?

He was personable and direct. He was confident and firm without being pushy. We exchanged emails before meeting in person, and I liked how clearly he explained things.

How did the surgery go?

Thanks to UCSF and Dr. Berger, I had the best possible outcome. The surgery was tricky because the tumor was lodged in the part of my brain that controlled my verbal, comprehension and logic skills. I was really nervous, but I knew I was in good hands.

During my six-hour operation, Dr. Berger used a special brain mapping technique to target the tumor as precisely as possible. The mapping gave him the information he needed to remove the tumor without injuring my brain. Words can’t express the feelings I have for this man. He saved my brain.

Later, I got even more good news when the pathology report showed the tumor was a benign ganglioglioma.

How are you doing now?

My brain surgery did not slow me down at all. I am living life to the fullest, traveling, acting and blogging. Life is good.

Interviewed February 2013 by Catherine Guthrie

Read More

To read an interview with Dr. Mitchel Berger, click here.

www.UCSFhealth.org/pioneeringcare

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