‘I Trust Dr. Bruce With My Life’

“I had the first pains in my head two days after my sophomore year of high school ended.” says Jennifer Hanichak Farrell. The year was 1994 and the sixteen year old Indiana cheerleader had no idea just how serious those headaches were.

Jennifer’s local doctor looked her over and couldn’t find anything wrong so, armed with migraine pain medicine, she continued on with life as best she could. She continued attending cheer leading practice three mornings a week but, the pressure in her head persisted throughout the summer.

“We tried several different remedies,” says Jennifer. “We thought I was possibly grinding my teeth at night and this may be causing the pain. My mom got me a sports guard for my mouth to sleep in. This, of course, did not work.”

Her doctor finally ordered an MRI and they discovered the cause of her headache–a tumor at the base of her brain.

“Once I had the MRI which showed the tumor, I met with a local neurosurgeon,” says Jennifer. “My parents asked the doctor how many of these tumors he had removed. He responded that while he had been to that area of the brain, he had never removed this type of tumor.” They were told the only doctors who had, were in New York City at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

A few weeks later, Jennifer and her family made the long trip from Indiana to New York and met Dr. Jeffrey Bruce from the Brain Tumor Center.

“Dr. Bruce was one of the kindest and most caring people I had ever met,” says Jennifer. “He took an interest in my whole family and the emotional roller coaster we had been on since my headaches began approximately two months before. We could tell that Dr. Bruce cared for me as a person, not just for the tumor inside my brain.”

Dr. Bruce performed a thorough neurological examination and reviewed her MRI scans. He says, “Jennifer’s scan showed she had a life-threatening tumor in the pineal gland.  These are very rare tumors.”

Just days later, Dr. Bruce had Jennifer in the operating room at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and he had removed her tumor. Four months later, Jennifer had returned to school and started cheer leading again.

Over the next couple of years, Jennifer continued with regular check ups and MRI scans–all normal.  In 1996 Jennifer started College in South Bend, Indiana and by early 2000 she was teaching first grade and engaged to be married.

Then, in March of 2002, a routine scan showed a small mass in her brain.

“When I was told that a small amount of my brain tumor had come back,” says Jennifer. “There was no question in my mind that I would return to New York to work with Dr. Bruce. I learned that technology had advanced since my surgery in 1994 and I now could have my tumor treated with Gamma Knife radiation.”

The Gamma Knife isn’t actually a knife but a sophisticated machine that uses concentrated gamma rays to target lesions without open brain surgery. In most cases, it can be done as an out-patient procedure.

“My family was told that there was a Gamma Knife center located in Indianapolis, just a few hours from home, however this wasn’t even a consideration,” says Jennifer. “We immediately contacted Dr. Bruce and set up arrangements to return to New York City.”

This time Dr. Bruce was joined by Dr. Steven Isaacson from the Gamma Knife Center for Jennifer’s treatment. The treatment was a success and a couple months later, Jennifer got married. In 2006, her son Brady was born.

In 2010, an MRI scan showed a small amount of tumor regrowth, but again, Bruce and Isaacson were able to treat it non-invasively with the Gamma Knife.

Dr. Bruce says, “She has had an excellent outcome. She is a lovely young woman who showed great courage in dealing with a life-threatening illness as a 16 year old high school student.  Currently she is a successful teacher and helps to raise money for children with brain tumors.”

“My relationship with Dr. Bruce has grown and been strengthened since first meeting him in 1994,” says Jennifer. “ He has always been very thorough in all of our medical interactions. He is quick to respond when I call with a question and he continues to show genuine care and concern for my feelings. My family has great trust in Dr. Bruce.  I have been blessed to have been led to such a wonderful doctor. I trust Dr. Bruce with my life.”