Mark was diagnosed with an Acoustic Neuroma in 2001.
What’s an Acoustic Neuroma?
Acoustic Neuroma, or vestibular schwannoma, is a type of non-cancerous (benign) tumour that is located behind the ear and can affect the vestibularcochlear nerve (hearing and balance) and facial nerve. This tumour can be fatal by growing so large and compressing critical motor nerves. 95% of Acoustic Neuroma occurred spontaneously without any evidence of family history, only 5% from inheritable condition called Neurofibramatosis Type 2 (NF2).
What are the symptoms for brain tumour?
The symptoms for Acoustic Neuroma depend on the location and size of the tumour. Generally, the common symptoms are unilateral hearing loss, unilateral tinnitus (ringing or hissing in the ears), balance problems such as vertigo, and even facial weakness or paralysis. Advance symptoms, in cases of large tumours, includes trouble with gagging or swallowing reflex and even intracranial pressure leading to hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain”.
What are the treatment options?
Treatments for Acoustic Neuroma are either observation, radiation (radiotherapy and radiosurgery) or open neurosurgery. Observations are for patients with small acoustic neuroma (less than 1.5cm), minimal symptoms, and slow growth rate of the tumour. However if the patients have medium acoustic neuroma (less than 2.5cm) and fast growth rate of the tumour, single fraction stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) or multi-session fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy (FSR) could be performed in order to arrest the growth rate of the tumour. Most of the time, facial nerve function and hearing can be preserved when using these techniques. If the tumour is large (more than 2.5cm), open neurosurgery is needed. Although it’s the most effective in the removal of the tumour, it’s also the least likelihood of preserving the facial nerve and hearing.
How Mark’s brain tumour “became a blessing in disguise”
After Mark Ruffalo underwent surgery, his road to recovery was an uphill battle, both emotionally and physically. After waking up from surgery, he became deaf in his left ear, he had balance issue, and on the third day after operation, he suddenly was unable to shut his left eye, nor move the left part of his face. Since Mark had to be on steroids to recover and was in constant fight-or-flight reaction, he decided to move upstate, away from the busy and intense New York City, the place he was staying then.
At an emotional level, the paralysis of the left side of his face meant the end of his acting career. During this difficult time, Mark had to draw upon an inner strength that he never knew existed. It did not only tested him, but also his relationship with his wife. During this time, they were recently married with a newborn. The hardship tested every aspect of their relationship and friendship. However, with both being patient and understanding together, they weathered the storm. This resulted in a deepening of his relationship with his wife.
Although distraught and disappointed with the paralysis of the left side of his face, Mark encountered another divine intervention in the form of a voice in him saying “Keep Moving.” He did just that.. Every morning, he would try to make his left facial muscle move for an hour, but without results. He would also take walks for miles everyday. The walks helped him to restore his balance quicker than other similar patients. He would also turn to alternative treatments such as acupuncture, sacral cranial therapy, and more. If the facial nerve hadn’t recovered after seven months, it usually meant that it is gone. However, Mark made “Keep Moving” his mantra and never gave up. His persistence and perseverance paid off when he was able to make a small movement under his left eye at the tenth month. His facial nerve was coming back to him but his neural pathway was mixed up. He had to relearn to use that side his face again, but he managed to do it and also get back to acting again after a year.
Although it was one of the hardest moments in his life, “the tumour, in an odd way, started to become this blessing in disguise as time went on,” stated Mark in an interview with the Acoustic Neuroma Association (ANA) in 2013. With the learning that an inner strength that he never knew existed, taking his relationship with his wife to another level, and rediscovering his love for acting, it was truly a “blessing in disguise”.
Yvonne Foong- The Malaysian Neurofibromatosis Type II Champion
When you google “acoustic neuromas Malaysia”, Yvonne Foong’s inspiring stories will fill the first page of Google. Yvonne Foong is a Neurofibromatosis Type II (NF2) patient since she was 16 years old and have been fighting it ever since.
What is Neurofibramatosis Type II?
NF2 is a hereditary condition where the main manifestation of the condition is acoustic neuroma growing behind both ears, instead of one ear like Mark. She’s also a writer and motivational speaker on increasing awareness of NF2. Her success in multiple fund-raising campaigns for her and other NF2 patients’ surgeries gained her awards and recognition, domestically and internationally. She recently set-up a new foundation, Works of Gratitude, to formally help NF2 patients by subsidizing surgery cost by 65% with the association of Dr. Rick. A. Friedman, a world-renowned leader in treating acoustic neuromas.
As the hype of another epic showdown between the Asgardian god and the Green Goliath builds up, let’s not forget the battles that patients like Mark, Yvonne and others went or are going through. Like Yvonne, Mark became “more empathetic to people” after his recovery that he was even on a phone counselor for other brain tumour sufferers . Although a brain tumour didn’t cause Bruce Banner to turn into the Hulk, Acoustic Neuromas did caused survivors like Mark, Yvonne and others to become a better and “much bigger person”. Nowadays, we need more of these kind of people in the world than the Hulk.
by Azim Nasaruddin
A graduated doctor, currently waiting for his placement in a Malaysian hospital. An aspiring oncologist who is determined to increase health awareness to the Malaysian public through his love and passion in medicine and writing. "“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” – Owen Arthur View all articles by Azim Nasaruddin.