Brain surgery patient overcomes incredible odds and pursues nursing career

Rachel Robbins has to go back in for check-ups every few weeks, but otherwise, life has returned to normal after brain surgery.
Rachel Robbins has to go back in for check-ups every few weeks, but otherwise, life has returned to normal after brain surgery.(WTVY News 4)
Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 6:28 PM CST
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Glioblastoma is a rare form of stage-4 brain cancer that is often fatal.

A surgeon at Flowers Hospital in Dothan had to deliver the unfortunate diagnosis to one patient whose surprising optimism and hope caught his attention.

Throughout his career, Dr. Nick Voss has looked at thousands of MRI scans with his patients.

On rare occasions, he has the unfortunate task of looking at one with glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer.

One like Rachel Robbins’s.

"Around the spring of 2018, I started having weird vision,” said Robbins. “I called it 'stars'. It's just like if you look at a lightbulb for too long."

The stars were shortly followed by unbearable headaches, and some other unusual symptoms.

"I remember seeing a billboard that said career, but I thought it just said beer because all I saw was 'eer',” said Robbins.

Rachel thought the symptoms may have been brought on by stress from nursing school, but when the vision issues and headaches persisted, she decided to see a doctor.

"It's causing so much pressure that for her, it needs to be treated soon,” said Dr. Voss. “She didn't have the liberty of three weeks or a month to ponder whether or not she should have surgery."

In fact, Rachel only had two days between diagnosis and brain surgery.

The first step in treating glioblastoma is immediately operating and removing as much of the tumor as possible.

Dr. Voss says Rachel never stopped smiling and being optimistic along the way.

"Her faith and her belief makes a big difference in what I can do, and more importantly in how she recovers,” said Voss.

It also caught the attention of the White House, where President Donald Trump wrote her a letter commending her bravery.

Voss was able to remove the entire tumor, and after a few months of chemo and proton radiation, Rachel is in remission.

Glioblastoma's usual survival rate is only about 12 months, but Rachel first started having the vision issues nearly two years ago.

She goes in for check-ups every few weeks, but otherwise is back to normal.

With one side effect, a blind spot in front of her left field of vision.

"At this point my brain has pretty much compensated for it,” said Robbins. “I know to look a little bit differently at things to see the left side."

Something else she's looking differently at after this whole experience is her training to become a nurse.

"Being a patient changes your perspective on things and gives you a viewpoint that you might not have otherwise had on what a patient goes through,” said Robbins.

Her nursing studies have been put on hold for the moment, but she's only got about two semesters left.

Two semesters she intends on finishing, as she continues to defy the odds.

Robbins will be running in a 5k race in Orlando this weekend that benefits brain cancer research.

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