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Sharp Health News

Losing — and finding — balance

Sept. 23, 2019

A shopping trip is a milestone on Tara’s recovery from cancer-related hearing loss.

A shopping trip is a milestone on Tara’s recovery from hearing loss.

On a sticky, late summer afternoon, Tara Hargrave navigates the busy aisles of her local warehouse store with ease. It wasn’t like this six months earlier, when simple things like shopping in a big store threw off her balance.

“The loud noises, big space and quick movement were overwhelming,” she says. “I had to rely on my husband to take me shopping.”

That’s all behind her now.

Hearing loss leaves Tara off balance
Tara’s health issues began in 2018, when she experienced partial hearing loss in her right ear, which worsened over time. While her doctor initially suspected the problems were related to nasal congestion, an MRI scan detected meningioma, a slow-growing tumor that forms on membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull. The tumor was growing on her hearing nerve — causing the hearing loss — and pushing against the nerve that controls balance.

In January 2019, the Lakeside resident underwent a grueling seven-hour surgery at UC San Diego to remove the tumor and the associated vestibular-auditory cranial nerve. As a result, the tumor removal caused full hearing loss in her ear, and the surgery — though successful — left her with mild imbalance. She could manage well with slow speed, but when she moved at a normal pace, she lost her balance more significantly. Additionally, quick movement, large spaces and crowds triggered her imbalance — making trips to most stores unbearable.

Thanks to the suggestion of a friend who works at Sharp, she discovered the vestibular rehabilitation program close to home, at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. For three months, she faithfully participated in weekly, one-hour sessions with physical therapist Kathy Voltin.

Commitment and connection aid in recovery
Voltin taught her exercises she could do at home to complement her physical therapy.

Voltin notes that it was Tara’s fierce dedication to her exercise regimen that contributed to her recovery. “She completed the vestibular rehabilitation program here at Sharp Grossmont and was faithful to the rigorous and progressive home exercises. We restored her ability to move quickly again, in multiple environments,” says Voltin.

Tara bonded with Voltin and credits her compassionate care and the staff at the Rehabilitation Center for buoying her progress. “I felt that Kathy cared for me. She inspired me by sharing her own experiences and things that she learned. I felt very at home,” she says.

Tara also leaned on the support of her online social network and was very public about her illness. “There is something empowering and reassuring when people know what you’re going through. It fuels you. You know you’re not alone on this journey,” she reflects.

The stay-at-home mom keeps busy these days raising three daughters and volunteering. Volunteerism runs in the family; one of her daughters is a member of the junior volunteer program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

For anyone facing a serious health condition, Hargrave’s advice is to stay positive and to surround yourself with positive people. “Stay focused on the good stuff and try to do a little more every day, even if it’s the smallest thing,” she says.

That includes a trip to the store.

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