Ann Van Wagner: A Woman of Strength and Determination



                     “The doctor was speaking to me, I could see his lips moving but I don't remember any of the other words. As I looked at the MRI scan in front of me his first words kept repeating in my mind. "You have a brain tumor...I'm so sorry." His lips continued to move but my mind just did not register them. A brain tumor? A brain tumor?? How could that be? This doctor was an ENT and I was there for vertigo with a suspected inner ear problem. I followed him out of the office. Again, those dreaded words, "I'm sorry." I walked out of the office and into the bright Florida sunshine. I remember walking to my SUV and thinking that this cannot possibly be true. I climbed into the vehicle and sat there for a long time. People were walking in and out of the building. A lady was riding down the sidewalk on her bicycle. Everything in their life was normal. I put my hands over my face wanting to just block out the world, however, nothing could block out the truth of his words. I had a brain tumor.”

                     Ann Van Wagner is a woman of unprecedented strength. On January 28th, 2010, she bravely set off into the operating room at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute to undergo neurosurgery under the skilled hands on Dr. Alfredo Quinones. She is a strong woman indeed.

                     Only six months earlier, Ann, at the age of 46, made an appointment with a local ENT in Florida for her issues with vertigo. Her doctors suspected that she might have an inner ear problem and performed a brain scan to locate the potential issue that was causing her vertigo. It was on this scan that they discovered Ann was suffering from a more serious condition—a brain tumor. After this discovery, Ann set out to meet with neurosurgeons in Florida, trying desperately to get answers if her tumor was cancerous, if she was going to receive a death sentence. There were a few days before finding out the good news that her tumor was not cancerous, but during that time, her two children would ask her “Are you going to die?” and Ann could simply answer “ I do not know.” Finally, Ann received the answer she had been hoping for—her tumor was not considered brain cancer but rather a benign meniginoma. Her experience with the neurosurgeons in Florida left her wanting more, though. She described being in and out of the office in under 7 minutes and the physicians being cold and distant. This is not the type of treatment that Ann wanted to receive. She did not feel comfortable trusting them with her brain, let alone her life. And so Ann decided to call Johns Hopkins.

                     Ann did not know Dr. Q when she first met him, but quickly knew he was the one who could help her. She described Dr.Q in our phone interview as calm and confident. He infused such hope into the situation that Ann went into the surgery feeling so extremely calm. Dr. Q was able to successfully remove her brain tumor and confirm her husband’s prediction that everything would turn out okay for Ann. She was released from the hospital a few days after her neurosurgery but was required to spend almost two weeks on anti-seizure medicine at a hotel in Baltimore.

                     The day Ann was finally cleared to make the trip back home to Florida, a major snow storm hit Baltimore. The airports were closed and it seemed as if Ann and her husband were going to spend a few more days in the hotel. Knowing how badly Ann wanted to go home and see her children, her husband rented a car, placed her comfortably in the back seat, and drove her back down to Florida to be reunited with her children.

                     “What can I do to be a positive influence today?” That is the selfless question that Ann Van Wagner now asks herself every morning when she wakes up.

                     Ann has used her experience with a brain tumor to become a champion for finding the cure for brain cancer. Every morning, she wakes up and thanks God that she does not have brain cancer but vows to do everything she can to help Dr. Q’s patient who were diagnosed with brain cancer. She feels extremely connected to other patients because she describes her diagnosis with a benign tumor as a “spin of the roulette wheel.” Ann believes she was given the opportunity and second chance to survive a brain tumor so that she could help others with the disease. She has put on two successful fundraisers, Bowling for Brains and Bungs for Brains, to raise money for Dr. Quinones’s research. She has raised OVER $17,000 to help find a cure for brain cancer.

                     Throughout her journey, one memory has always stuck with her and served as a source of inspiration. As she was a reading a biblical article, there was a quote that read " Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself." Ann believes this quote completely changed her mindset moving forward. She realized that worrying would not add a single second to her existence and would only prevent her from moving forward.

                     To those currently struggling with a brain tumor or brain cancer, Ann offers this advice: “You can never give up hope because no matter what, there is always room for hope. No matter how bad or how hopeless or how dark things may seem, there will always be a light at the end.”

                      Written by Alexandra Larsen