• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Hitting the high notes after battling a rare tumor

June 30, 2019
Sharing Mayo Clinic patient Mackenzie Rolison wearing a black choir dress and holding a sheet of music

Mackenzie Rolison had been singing in choirs for years when she was diagnosed with a rare tumor. It required surgery that significantly affected her vocal cords. But after receiving further treatment from a multidisciplinary Mayo Clinic team, Mackenzie was thrilled to regain her voice.

Singing has always been a big part of Mackenzie Rolison's life. She auditioned for her school's choir in seventh grade and continued in choir throughout high school. But for a time, as Mackenzie weathered a series of medical challenges, her voice faded, and the outlook that she would regain her ability to sing seemed bleak.

It started in 2015 when, during a routine eye exam her junior year, an ophthalmologist told Mackenzie that her optic nerves were swollen. She had an MRI to investigate, and the imaging revealed a serious problem: a mass at the base of her skull and upper neck.

Mackenzie's mom made an appointment for her at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in September 2015. There Mackenzie had another MRI and a CT scan. Then she met with otolaryngologist Colin Driscoll, M.D., and neurosurgeon Michael Link, M.D. They told her she had a paraganglioma — a rare benign tumor by the jugular vein at the base of her temporal bone. Of 1 million people, only about 3 to 8 are diagnosed with this type of tumor each year.

Although the tumor was not cancerous, if left untreated, it would lead to serious health problems. "It's slow-growing, and eventually begins to affect nerves and function in that region, causing problems with swallowing, voice, hearing loss, dizziness, facial paralysis and shoulder weakness," Dr. Driscoll says. Read the rest of Mackenzie's story.
This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.