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“Road bump” brings change of focus to Beacon associate

Had you asked Ginny Schackow to describe herself prior to her diagnosis, she would have said she was driven, family-oriented, fun, organized, always a planner and always on the lookout for the next project or family hiking trip. A photo taken during one of those hiking trips, when she posed like Rosie the Riveter, encapsulates her strength and determination.

Ginny Schackow

Schackow is still all those things. But the 40-year-old wife and mom has been looking at life a little differently since spring, when doctors incidentally discovered a benign brain tumor that has been slowly growing near her brainstem for years. She is scheduled for surgery later this month.

“Sometimes I feel like I can do it all, but I will not get through this without help,” says Schackow, executive director of operations at Beacon Medical Group. “I know I need to be patient and lean on others. I will have to take time for me. That is not what I do, but I’m starting to become more comfortable with the idea. My perspective has changed. Not everything will be within my control and that is OK.”

Life took this unexpected turn for Schackow one morning in early March when she awoke with significant swelling on one side of her neck. It looked like the size of a tennis ball, so she immediately got in to see her doctor and he ordered a CT scan. This diagnostic imaging test determined she had a swollen lymph node that would resolve itself on its own over time. But the same scan, and a subsequent MRI, also revealed something else.

Doctors found a right-sided cerebellopontine angle (CPA) meningioma. It’s the most common type of noncancerous brain tumor in women. But the tumor is located deep within the skull base near the brainstem, in close proximity to many cranial nerves, including those that control hearing and balance. Schackow said it will require highly specialized surgery to remove.

Her world shook when she got the news. A whirlwind of tests and appointments and meetings with neurosurgeons followed before her surgery date was set. She remembers the difficult conversation she and her husband, Davey, had with their daughters about the surgery, and about the time it will take for her to rest and heal afterward.

“I was nervous, scared and didn’t want my kids to feel the way I was feeling. They are young, vibrant, and empathetic. I did not want to disrupt the life they were living,” Schackow said. “But my family and I talk through worries and come up with fun things that we can do to get our minds back to a better place. I remind myself often that this is a road bump, and many others are not as fortunate as me.”

Ginny Schackow and family.

Since her diagnosis, Schackow has been working toward a better home-life balance. She is taking more time to play with her kids in the pool because “laundry and cleaning really can wait.” Walking and working out had been a priority that slipped during the pandemic, so she is making every attempt to exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week. “When I’m eating healthy and feeling good, I have more energy to do fun things with my family – and that matters most.”

She has also been encouraging people to pay attention to and be advocates for their own health and the health of their family members. “Right away I knew that I should have gotten a few things checked out a bit sooner,” Schackow acknowledges.

She had been experiencing right-sided ear ringing, as well as episodes of vertigo on and off for months. She also noticed her right eyelid frequently twitching. “I chalked it up to me turning 40. I was busy and thought it would go away,” she says.

“I will be more in tuned to my body and symptoms from here on out. The overall outcome of this diagnosis will not change based on my procrastination, but other medical problems may not be so forgiving,” Schackow says. “I have told everyone I talk to that they need to listen to their bodies, and if you have an issue that persists and is bothersome, have your doctor check it out.”

About Heidi Prescott-Wieneke