Barrington native credits doctors, positive attitude for brain surgery recovery

Barrington native Candace Graham was walking back to her Chicago home from Northwestern Hospital last July when she received the phone call that she needed immediate brain surgery.

Graham had just undergone a CT scan at Northwestern, but was caught off guard by the diagnosis of an extremely rare colloid cyst in her brain, which doctors said required immediate removal.

“It is in the middle of your head and it rests against the control centers,” Graham explained. “If it’s not taken out and it’s the size that mine was, you can die. My nature is, ‘OK, let’s take care of it.’”

Graham first noticed something was wrong when she began having dizzy spells about a year earlier.

“I just had this kaleidoscopic vision where I’d just get dizzy,” she said. “So I started keeping track of when I was having these dizzy spells.”

It was after Graham had two spells on consecutive days, both while she was driving, that she decided to seek help.

She said a neurologist at Northwestern thought it might be a parasite and asked Graham if she’d recently been to Mexico. Incidentally, she had, so he ordered the CT scan.

“It was a lot to deal with,” Graham said of the scary diagnosis and need for surgery. “But I feel I was in really good hands.”

Dr. James Chandler, the neurological surgeon at Northwestern who operated on Graham, said it was the size and location of the cyst that forced Graham into immediate surgery.

“It’s a cyst that typically occurs in the center of the brain in an area called the third ventricle,” Chandler said. “The treachery with these is that we all make approximately a half a liter of spinal fluid in our brain every day and the fluid circulates through channels including the third ventricle.”

Chandler explained that the third ventricle includes fibers that control memory, cognition, walking and bladder control. Those functions can become obstructed by fluid buildup caused by the cyst.

“So it can have very significant, debilitating consequences,” he said.

In the worst case scenario, Chandler said sudden death can result from fluid buildup.

Because the cyst was in the center of Graham’s brain, Chandler said he chose a complicated but very effective procedure in which he removed the cyst from between the two halves of the brain by entering the fluid chamber. A different procedure, in which an endoscopy is used to remove the cyst, can be less invasive but can also be less effective, Chandler explained.

“We decided to go with the more complicated strategy because of the location and the unfavorable anatomy, meaning I did not believe I could safely pass the ventricular scope,” he said.

Graham said the ordeal was frightening, but she is amazed at the outcome and the speed of her recovery.

“The lack of intrusion on my skull was just miraculous,” she said. “I was in and out of the hospital in 28 hours. It was kind of crazy.”

Chandler called Graham “brave.”

“She didn’t bat an eye. She was very definitive,” he said. “It never ceases to amaze me the courage that patients exhibit.”

Graham, who attended Barrington School District 220’s Lines School and Grove Avenue School, went on to captain the BHS swim team before graduating in 1988. She then went on to swim at Purdue University.

She lived in Michigan until 2012 and said she is grateful her move closer to home put her in close proximity of the care she received at Northwestern Hospital.

“I feel so blessed that I’m so close to such a great medical center,” she said. “I couldn’t be more happy that I moved back from Michigan to Chicago to be near my family.”

Graham said staying in good physical health and keeping an optimistic attitude helped her tremendously through the experience.

“The lesson learned is that when you’re healthy and in good shape, you’re much better poised to go through something like this,” she said.

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