Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Student overcomes brain tumor


Anna Montgomery was an active student in her freshman year at The University of Alabama before she started to get sick. Montgomery was involved with her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, and loved going to class for her major, sports broadcasting. She was even Miss Teen Alabama 2012. But in December, she started to get headaches every day. After that, more symptoms started to appear.

“Everything started to add up,” Montgomery said. “I was just wanting to sleep all the time, and that’s not like me, having horrible pain in my nose. I was so confused. It was debilitating.”

Montgomery’s big sister in Alpha Gamma Delta, Haley Simpson, had noticed a change in Montgomery’s behavior.

“She was always really tired, and she never felt well,” Simpson said. “We’d go to a date party or something, and she’d go but she wasn’t herself.”

Montgomery’s doctors initially believed she had a sinus infection brought on by a staph infection.

“Doctors were like, ‘alright you’ve got a sinus infection, we’re going to put you on this medicine,’” Montgomery said.

Her symptoms only continued to get worse and in early June, Anna’s mother, Jill Montgomery, started receiving calls from her daughter.

“She just started calling and telling us that she was having black out episodes, vision difficulty, things that hadn’t been there before,” Jill Montgomery said.

“Finally they were like, things aren’t getting better, we need to do an MRI,” Montgomery said. “They were scanning me for a brain tumor and I was like, ‘Whoa you’ve got the wrong person, that’s not me.’”

On June 28, Montgomery found out that she had a 1.2 centimeter pineal cystic tumor sitting on her pineal gland, which regulates sleeping patterns. Though it was benign, the tumor was also resting on Montgomery’s optic nerve, causing visual disturbances along with the fatigue, pain and sleeping issues.

When Simpson found out, she was shocked.“I freaked out,” Simpson said. “I immediately texted her and was like what was going on. I was really scared.”

But Montgomery, far from being scared, was just glad to finally know what was happening to her.

“First of all, I was relieved,” Montgomery said. “At least they found something, at least it’s not like, ‘we don’t know what’s going on with you.’ So I was thankful and I was frustrated.”

Montgomery, her doctors and her family decided that getting surgery for the tumor as quickly as possible was their best option.

“My dad and my mom looked all over the place for the best place to have it,” Montgomery said. “To our surprise, nobody in the Southeast was doing the surgery.”

After looking at three facilities around the country, they eventually settled on Dr. Hrayr Shahinian out of Los Angeles, a pioneer in the type of surgery Montgomery needed.

“He pioneered the endoscopic craniotomy,” Jill Montgomery said. “He’s the one who created the procedure that the other two facilities picked up on down the road.”

“When you think brain surgery or brain tumor, I was like ‘I don’t know what it would entail,’” Montgomery said. “I was scared, I was happy, I was thankful. I was scared of the surgery, I was scared of leaving the life that I know.”

With her surgery scheduled for July 18, three weeks after she found out she had a tumor, Montgomery and her family flew out to Los Angeles a couple of days ahead of time.

“The night before, I slept pretty good,” Montgomery said. “I was not really all that nervous. My friends were sending me hundreds of texts. I’m thousands of miles from home and they were lifting me with their spirits and prayers.”

The next day, Montgomery went to the hospital and met with Shahinian before the surgery.

“He came in there and said, ‘Are you ready?’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Montgomery was under anesthesia for her surgery, but Shahinian explained the process for her ahead of time.

“They make and incision in the back and take part of the skull out,” Montgomery said. “There’s a little passageway between the upper and lower brain, he puts a little instrument in and takes what he can out.”

Montgomery turns her head and lifts her ponytail to show the scar, a short vertical line where her neck meets the base of her skull.

“When I woke up I was in ICU, with four IVs, everything hooked up to me,” Montgomery said. “I was in a tremendous amount of pain. I wish the doctor would have told me that.”

Anna’s mother and father were also surprised by the scope of the surgery.

“She was on a ventilator, she was on oxygen, she was incoherent, she couldn’t talk,” Jill Montgomery said. “For three to four days, she could not speak.”

Though she had to work hard to perform activities as simple as walking in the days after the surgery, today Montgomery is lively and as active as her continuing recovery permits.

“It’s really about now just pushing myself,” Montgomery said. “I can sit around and lay around and be like, ‘this will get better eventually.’ Yeah, it’ll get better eventually but I’ve got to walk, I’ve got to eat right, I’ve got to do my therapy exercises. There’s just stuff I have to do to get better.”

Some things, like the schoolwork for her online classes, have become harder for Anna since the surgery.

“School is a lot harder now,” Simpson said. “Being able to read things and comprehend them is a little bit harder. But she can do anything she puts her mind to.”

Though the work might be a little harder than it used to be, both Montgomery and her mother said the University of Alabama had gone above and beyond what was necessary to aid in Montgomery’s recovery and return to normal life.

“I had to walk outside of the ICU because the University of Alabama was calling to check up on her,” Jill said. “They took care of her whole schedule, any arrangement that needed to be made for her to be back on campus and resume her student life, they took care of it for us. They didn’t have to do everything they did for us. I just cannot thank the University of Alabama enough.”

Montgomery hopes that her experience can serve as an inspiration to others to take a more active role in their health.

“I feel like God’s placed it on my heart now to be a voice for other people,” Montgomery said. “So many of us put off our health. I did that to myself. I’m having these headaches every day, stopping me from living my life, and finally the only reason I went to the doctor was because it was the summer and I wasn’t taking classes.”

With her symptoms gone and life slowly returning to normal, Montgomery, now a sophomore, is looking forward to coming back to Tuscaloosa within the next week.

“She’ll be back for good on Thursday,” Simpson said. “I’m looking forward to seeing her again, eating lunch with her at the house.”

But Montgomery already knows what she wants to do first when she comes back.

“Oh my gosh, go eat at City Cafe, I’m so excited!”


More to Discover