Dr. Vasu Cheekati is an internal medicine physician in Atlanta. When she began experiencing headaches that she couldn’t explain, she self-referred to a neurologist.
“My symptoms started off as random occasional headaches in the middle of night that did not really bother me,” Dr. Cheekati said. “I eventually decided to see a neurologist when they started getting more frequent at the end of September 2021.”
Despite having a normal neurological exam and no alarming symptoms, Dr. Cheekati decided to get an MRI. On Oct. 25, she was leading a normal day seeing patients, when her neurologist called with the shocking results. A meningioma, approximately 7 centimeters by 7 centimeters, was compressing her brain. This was the cause of her “very innocent” headaches. The neurologist referred Dr. Cheekati to Dr. Jim Robinson at Northside Hospital.
“Everything moved very fast after that,” she said.
The very next day, while Dr. Robinson was out of town, his physician assistant, Kelly LaClair, saw Dr. Cheekati to go through the MRI results and make a plan for surgery.
“Dr. Robinson called me from Florida, where he was on vacation with his family. Being on vacation did not inhibit his physician responsibilities; he was still taking care of his patients,” Dr. Cheekati said. “He explained the reason for surgery, procedure details and the complications that may arise.”
Dr. Cheekati appreciated the confidence Dr. Robinson gave her when he mentioned that in his 20+ years of experience of performing this type of surgery he’d never had a bad outcome. “He patiently answered all the questions asked by me and my sister (both of us are physicians),” she said.
Dr. Cheekati’s surgery was scheduled for Nov. 18. However, after another episode of severe headache led to an ER visit, Dr. Robinson decided surgery could not wait. On Nov. 3, Dr. Cheekati underwent a craniotomy to remove the tumor at Northside Hospital Atlanta.
“As I was being wheeled to get my surgery… my thoughts were racing – ‘Will I see my family again?’ ‘Will I open my eyes once the anesthesia wears off?’ ‘Will I be back to normal functionality after surgery?’ Dr. Robinson, Kelly and my anesthesiologist assured me that everything would be alright,” Dr. Cheekati said. “I thanked them immensely for all the assurance they gave as I dozed off into the effects of my sedation.”
“I was in surgery for 10 long hours,” she added. “My husband informed me that the surgical team was updating him every few hours about my condition. Then, he got the final call. The surgery was a success. They were able to remove my tumor completely.”
Due to visitor restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Cheekati’s family was not able to see her immediately following surgery. For the next 36 hours, she was taken care of by “many wonderful nurses, techs, physical therapist and charge nurses who were attending to my various needs.” Dr. Cheekati is grateful to each one of them.
“After surgery, recovery period was very intense physically and emotionally. My heartfelt gratitude to my family and friends who helped me pass each day. I was frequently reaching out to Dr.Robinson’s team to ensure that my symptoms were normal healing process.”
“Five and half months after my surgery, I may not remember the names of all the people that took care of me, but I remember everything they did for me and I am thankful to every single staff member at Northside Hospital Atlanta for the good care they provide,” she said.
Six weeks after surgery, Dr. Cheekati saw Dr. Robinson for a follow-up MRI, which showed “good improvement with no residual tumor, and that it was not cancer.”
“I still have some symptoms expected as part of recovery, but am able to lead my day-to-day life without any hindrance,” she said.
Dr. Cheekati will continue to see Dr. Robinson for follow-up visits to make sure the tumor does not return.
“Prior to this experience, I was leading a normal life being a loving mother of two, enjoying the bliss of wonderful family and friends, working as a doctor and taking care of my patients,” Dr. Cheekati said. “There was no personal or family history to explain the reason why I developed the tumor. Being healthy in general, I was not prepared for such a big life-altering medical condition.”
“Dr. Robinson and his team from Northside Hospital have taken good care of me during my most vulnerable days of illness; Kelly would address my concerns and would respond to me immediately after discussing with Dr. Robinson,” Dr. Cheekati added. “My heartfelt gratitude to them for taking care of me. I am back on track leading my normal life because of my wonderful health care team.”
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.