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Personal trainer on the mend after brain surgery

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Betty Doyling with Brooke Swearingen, neurosurgical oncologist at Masschusetts General Hospital (Photograph supplied)

Five months after a health scare that threatened her sight and caused a 30lb weight gain, Betty Doyling is on the road to recovery.

The personal trainer flew to Boston two weeks ago to have a tumour removed from her pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ behind the eye. A specialist team at Massachusetts General Hospital performed the three-and-a-half hour transsphenoidal surgery.

“With all my doctors’ appointments in Bermuda and everything here – the whole procedure from start to finish – I just feel like I am incredibly blessed. I think it’s been totally amazing,” she said.

Ms Doyling contacted her GP last year after she grew concerned by the discharge from her breasts during self-examination. Also bothering her was her weight, which was steadily rising despite regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Tests determined she had a prolactin-producing tumour, a benign growth found within five to ten per cent of the adult population. Hers was larger than a centimetre.

“It is a very common thing especially with women between the ages of 30 and 45,” she said.

“My main concern was it crushing my optic nerve. If the tumour kept growing it could crush it. So it could either take away my sight or lessen my peripheral vision by 50 to 75 per cent.”

Family and friends rallied and she feels “incredibly blessed” to have had the medical expertise that she did.

“Kelly Cabral at Argus really, really helped me,” she said, explaining how the relationship manager helped move her surgery to Massachusetts General even though it was not on the list of hospitals offered through her insurance.

“My doctor in Bermuda recommended [Massachusetts General] because they couldn’t do the surgery in Bermuda and then Kelly was able to clear it for me. I’m thankful that I got the doctor who did my surgery – Dr [Brooke] Swearingen who has done 3000-plus of these surgeries – and my ear, nose and throat doctor [George] Scangas. I definitely got an amazing doctor combo.”

Having never undergone surgery before, Ms Doyling was thrilled that her husband Steven was allowed into the hospital with her.

“The day before we got here the [Covid] restrictions changed,” she said. “He would literally have had to just drop me at the hospital and leave me there. But he was able to go all the way through until they gave me my IV. I was practically in tears – no, I don’t want to go through all of this by myself.

“They basically went in through my nose and opened up a little piece of my skull and then moved through there and took the tumour out. It’s extremely delicate. There are two main arteries that run behind your nose that could bleed out during surgery. And then also your optic nerve runs across there as well.”

Were it not for “a slight headache” and a wound just inside her nose she wouldn’t know that she had had surgery, said Ms Doyling, who writes a regular fitness column for The Royal Gazette.

She has been told it will take four to six months before she sees any improvement. Doctors have warned her tumour will recur within ten years and might require additional surgery or radiation therapy.

Meanwhile, she was encouraged by friends in Bermuda who invited people to take a picture or video of themselves jumping rope in front of their favourite mural and post it on social media with the hashtags #jump4Betty, #bactive_gal and #speedyrecovery.

“It’s what I did in the month of February,” explained Ms Doyling, who is due to return to Bermuda today. “Any mural, I would skip in front of it and then list the mural and list the artist. I did that for the whole month of February so they got the idea to do something similar, just really for me and my surgery.

“I was overwhelmed by all the methods and areas of support that were poured out to me – the messages and prayers, people sent me flowers and little gifts. It’s been amazing.”

Her idea in making her medical journey public was that it might encourage other people “to be really aware of what’s going on with their bodies”.

“I feel like many different issues get ignored because people just overlook what’s happening with their bodies. If we are more proactive with our health we can have a higher success rate of being OK and it not turning into something that could be far worse,” Ms Doyling said.

“For all things that you feel aren’t normal with your body – get them checked. Don’t ignore anything. That’s what our insurance is there for. Many of us just leave our insurance dormant. Don’t. Even for a basic thing like podiatry appointments. We get those with our insurance so take advantage of everything your insurance is offering you, check-ups all of that.”

She continued: “My biggest thing with this whole experience is just stay aware of everything that’s going on with your body. I honestly would have ignored it. I tried to do more exercise and diet more and all of that and it just wasn’t working. It’s only then that I went to see my doctor. So I was OK this is not normal.”

As far as exercise goes, the fitness trainer will have to take things slowly for a while.

“I can walk but I’ve been told no weights for four to six weeks. Right now I’m not lifting anything more than 5lbs,” she said. “I’ll probably go back to classes in the middle of July but I’ll still probably have my students help me lift everything for a little bit of time just to make sure I don’t burst any seams.”

She added: “The whole experience is kind of surreal. Going in and waking up and, you’ve had brain surgery. It’s crazy.”

Betty and Steven Doyling at Massachusetts General Hospital (Photograph supplied)
Betty Doyling a week after brain surgery (Photograph supplied)
Betty Doyling with George Scangas, a sinus surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 29, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 30, 2021 at 8:08 am)

Personal trainer on the mend after brain surgery

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