This is what it's like to be awake during brain surgery
BEING awake during an intense operation would sound like a nightmare to most people.
But St Leonards 22-year-old Demi Lawson felt no fear as she spoke to a surgeon while they operated on her brain.
After suffering unrelenting headaches last year, Ms Lawson was diagnosed with a grade three anaplastic ependymoma, an aggressive brain tumour that is rare in adults.
Because the cancerous tumour was located near the language centre of Ms Lawson's brain, awake brain surgery was used to remove it.
Ms Lawson underwent the procedure at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in October.
Associate Professor Martin Hunn, director of neurosurgery at The Alfred Hospital, said about six to eight awake craniotomies for brain tumours were performed at the hospital each year.
Prof Hunn said examples of awake surgery include craniotomies for brain tumours or drug-resistant epilepsy (when the area to be removed is close to speech centres), implantation of deep brain stimulation for movement disorders and some operations for facial pain.
"The most common reason for performing awake craniotomy is to allow the surgeon to accurately locate areas of the brain that are involved in controlling the ability to speak and to comprehend speech," he explained.
"This allows the surgeon to proceed with maximum safe tumour removal while minimising the risk to speech function.
"It may tell the surgeon the safest way to get to the tumour and/or how much of the tumour can be safely removed."
Prof Hunn said locating speech involves the patient performing speech tasks while a special instrument temporarily stops a part of the brain from working.
"In this way the surgeon can "map" the function of the brain," he said.
Ms Lawson said she was sedated at the start and end of the procedure.
While awake during the operation, she could not feel the surgeons operating on her.
"I wouldn't say it was scary," she said.
"You can't feel anything.
"I think I'd describe it as strange.
"I don't remember feeling any sort of fear."
Ms Lawson consented to donating samples of the tumour that was removed to the Alfred Brain Bio-Bank to help future researchers.
The samples collected by the bio-bank are stored and made available to researchers to test and trial new treatments for brain cancer.
Ms Lawson had radiation after the surgery and requires ongoing brain scans going forward.
"I feel good now and I'm healthy," Ms Lawson said.
"I don't sweat the small stuff to a degree (after the experience)."
Before her brain cancer diagnosis and surgery, Ms Lawson had already been dealt the trauma of losing her younger brother Sam to suicide in February of 2020, when he was just 20 years old.
She said the sense of unity her family formed to get through the tragedy helped her cope with her cancer diagnosis.
Ms Lawson has recently auctioned artwork she created with proceeds being shared between brain cancer research and suicide prevention.
She is working on further artworks which she intends to sell for charity, which will be available at suealsolutions.com.au
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Originally published as Why Bellarine woman was awake during brain surgery