As she walked around a cruise ship with her friends in March 2020, Tori Dent began to feel dizzy.
The active and healthy Brisbane nurse dismissed it as seasickness and continued to roam the boat, wearing a huge smile as she enjoyed her holiday at sea.
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But when the now 28-year-old made it back on land, the bouts of dizziness didn’t go away.
“I assumed this was a normal feeling after a week out at sea on a cruise ship,” Dent tells 7Life.
That’s until her symptoms worsened – and she began experiencing difficulty swallowing.
“I just couldn’t eat,” she says.
“I felt unwell, but I was blasé and figured it would pass.”
A doctor diagnosed Dent with vertigo and she was given medication.
“It was hard to swallow the tablets, with water as well,” she says.
“Also when I did take them, they didn’t seem to work.”
It was the time before COVID vaccinations, and the nurse was also told to get a PCR test.
But while waiting for the test at a hospital clinic, she took a turn.
“While I waited to sign in for the test I was incredibly dizzy, making it difficult to stand and walk,” she recalls.
“A doctor told me to go to ED (emergency department) after my test.
“That same doctor took me to the ED in a wheelchair.”
Dent had a blood test and CT scan. Neither showed abnormalities.
“(I was) upset, helpless, frustrated, confused,” she explains.
“I still didn’t believe I could be that unwell and not have an answer.
“It also made me feel like it was in my head, and that I was being a hypochondriac.”
However, an MRI of her brain would turn her life on its head.
A small growth, roughly the size a watermelon seed, was discovered on her brain stem.
Doctors suspected the growth to be a slow-growing, rare, benign tumour called hemangioblastoma.
“I was kind of relieved when I was told,” she says.
“There was a reason behind my symptoms.”
Because of its small size, Dent was told it was inoperable, so she began instead to focus on ways to manage her symptoms.
“I figured if it wasn’t going to grow fast or drastically that, over time, my symptoms would be manageable,” she says.
But within a week of being admitted to hospital, Dent’s ability to walk and eat deteriorated.
“I had double vision, could no longer drink water and I had lost feeling in my right arm and hand,” she says.
She was transferred to another hospital, where a second MRI showed the tumour had “grown by a third”.
Neurosurgeons no longer suspected it was a hemangioblastoma.
The nurse underwent emergency surgery to try to remove as much of the growth as possible.
“I was stoked (for surgery) because I just wanted it removed,” she says, adding that surgeons were able to take out 80 per cent of the growth.
However, within only three weeks of surgery, the tumour rapidly grew again – it was now 4cm.
“(It) was not expected to grow like it did,” she says.
Dent was now unable to swallow, walk and talk.
Her ability to smile was also taken away – as her half her face became paralysed.
“I didn’t realise the effects it could have (on my body),” she says.
She would spend 19 days in ICU, recovering from the tumour’s growth.
In early May 2020, the tumour, which was notated on Dent’s hospital paperwork as an “undifferentiated brain stem lesion”, began to shrink.
No one has been able to explain how.
From mid May, Dent had a tracheostomy put in place – to help her breathe.
This was removed in September 2020, something she says is her “proudest achievement”.
“I still can’t think of anything worse to be stuck with,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.
“It’s my proudest achievement and was the most important and challenging.”
Dent spent 14 months in hospital, learning to walk, talk and smile again – an ongoing battle for the active and outgoing nurse.
Her friends and family were “shocked and in disbelief” by the condition but didn’t leave her side.
“My friends and family showed up for me – anything I needed they organised and looked after,” she says.
“Anything that happened behind the scenes I have no idea.”
Dent was discharged in May 2021 “to live independently”.
“Everything takes more energy and more time,” she says about life now.
“I took a long time to learn time management with my new circumstances.
“I know how to live and run my life but I can’t physically do everything.”
Impact on life
To date, the nurse has endured 10 surgeries and procedures, nine of which have helped with her recovery.
She also underwent “reanimation” surgery – to help restore facial symmetry and muscles.
And she is due to undergo her 11th operation in March 2023.
However, Dent’s life isn’t the same since the tumour wreaked havoc on her life.
She uses an mobility aid to walk, suffers facial palsy, vocal cord palsy and “different eye issues” due to cranial nerve damage.
And she also still has bouts of vertigo.
“I always appreciated time, but I didn’t think this could happen to me,” she says.
“I was travelling, socialising and working.
“I’m not able to work yet, I’m not travelling and socialising is different.
“I lived a very active life prior to this event and I’m unable to participate in all the physical activities I used to love and enjoy.”
Because of her facial paralysis, she can’t help but notice people staring.
“I try to think about how they are just curious,” she explains.
“I hate the way I look but I do try to not think about it too much.
“If I’m feeling self conscious I will try to avoid facial expressions to keep my face somewhat symmetrical.”
But the nurse hasn’t let this stop her from embracing her social side.
“I avoid meeting new people but when I am in that situation I will also try to embrace it,” she explains.
“I used to be a really confident person so I feel like some of my confidence still shines through.”
The adversity isn’t holding her back – she is trying to find new activities and different ways to enjoy life.
“I don’t intend on letting this event control my life more than it already has,” she says.
Her persistence and determination is there for all to see on Instagram, where she regularly posts videos and photos of gym sessions.
And she’s urging others to speak up and ask questions about their health.
“For anyone with some form of lesion or tumour on their brain – all I have to say is, ask questions about anything,” she says.
“Knowledge is powerful.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Tori with with surgery to have her eye surgically corrected.
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