• Sharing Mayo Clinic: Pastry chef is ready for sweet smell of life

Jessie Brenholt is back to baking after tumor treatment.

Jessie Brenholt is a certified pastry chef who would like to open a bakery one day. "If the ingredients were free, I'd give out cakes to everyone," she says.

For a while, the 23-year-old's dream seemed to be in jeopardy. After months of being sick with weight loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and vision problems, Jessie found that the source of her symptoms was a tumor on her pituitary gland — a small gland located at the base of the brain that makes a variety of hormones.

A neurosurgeon near her hometown of Hill City, Minnesota, found that the walnut-sized tumor was wrapped around Jessie's optic nerve and located close to a carotid artery. Treatment to get rid of it could affect Jessie's sense of smell and vision. Due to the complexity of the situation, the surgeon referred Jessie to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.

"A pastry chef needs to be able to smell and see," says Jessie. "My doctors at Mayo Clinic understood my concerns and have been great about preserving my quality of life with surgery and proton beam therapy." 

Dealing with a daunting condition

The tumor Jessie had, called a pituitary adenoma, was not cancer. But it was secreting an excess of growth hormone. That caused the tumor to grow, and it triggered a condition known as acromegaly.

Removing the tumor required three surgeries at Mayo Clinic over the course of six months. The first, an endoscopic endonasal procedure performed through Jessie's nose, removed a significant amount of the tumor. The second and third surgeries — one through her nose and the other through her skull — removed a tiny bit more. Her doctors recommended radiation therapy to destroy the remaining tumor.

"My doctors at Mayo Clinic understood my concerns and have been great about preserving my quality of life." – Jessie Brenholt 

At the same time radiation therapy destroys tumors, it also can damage surrounding healthy tissue. For some parts of the body, that's less problematic. But in Jessie's case, the surrounding tissue was her brain and optic nerve.

Her neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic suggested a consultation for proton beam therapy. This treatment could destroy the tumor while sparing nearby normal tissues and result in a significantly lower dose of radiation to the brain than other radiation therapy techniques.

Feeling at home away from home

Jessie's care team agreed that treatment in Mayo Clinic's Proton Beam Therapy Program was the best approach for her situation, and she soon started the treatment.

"The staff makes you feel at ease and at home," she says. "I loved showing up every day for treatment and hearing the receptionist at the front desk laughing before I even entered."

Her mother, Wendy James, agrees. "They make it such a happy, warm place to be. You can tell they really enjoy their jobs and spread that feeling to their patients.

"It's so hard to see your child go through this, but Mayo Clinic helps to take some of that feeling away," Wendy adds. "They knew what they were doing and took Jessie's physical needs off of my hands, so I could be there for her emotional needs."

Prepping for the future

After six weeks of proton beam therapy, Jessie returned home to Hill City to start the next phase of her life. Although she still needs regular checkups to determine the treatment's effect on the tumor, Jessie is already planning her future. During her time at Mayo Clinic, she started an online course for wedding and event planning — a good fit with her pastry expertise.

"I'd like to be normal. I want people to ask me how my baking is going instead of how my radiation is going," she says. "I want to start the life of a 23-year-old."



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