Eavan Driscoll is a senior at Albemarle High School in Virginia and will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall. She is a captain of the field hockey team...
Ginny Bruno’s “BooBoo”
Senior battles brain tumor and comes out singing.
May 17, 2022
Chapter 1…………….How It All Began
Chapter 2……………..Serious Surgery
Chapter 3…………. Road To Recovery
Chapter 4……………….. Home At Last
Chapter 5…….Students Show Support
Chapter 6………………. A Musical Past
Chapter 7…………………The Jefferson
Chapter 8……….Looking To The Future
How It All Began
“Six minutes after posting our TikTok, the ambulances were on their way.”
Senior Ginny Bruno and her friend senior Carter Weaver were supposed to have a fun day of scary movies, sledding, and making TikToks together. Instead, at 6 pm Sunday, Jan. 16, Bruno began to seize on the floor.
The girls were sprawled out on Weaver’s bed with a bag of barbeque chips between them, waiting for the neighborhood kids to abandon the sledding hill.
“I was trying to respond to a text, but I could not read or understand what it said,” Bruno recalled.
Weaver remembers being confused “What don’t you understand?”
Bruno joked that she must be having matcha withdrawals, a drink she and Weaver share a love for. Bruno brushed off the small headache and weird confusion building up inside her.
On her way back from a quick bathroom break, Weaver heard a scream and saw Bruno falling to the ground, seizing uncontrollably.
“If you have never seen a seizure, it looks exactly like what they show in the movies,” Weaver said. “I was in a state of pure panic.” I was in a state of pure panic. — Carter Weaver
I was in a state of pure panic.
— Carter Weaver
Initially, she thought that Bruno was joking– the possibility of a real seizure was too much to comprehend. Quickly she realized it was no joke, and Weaver and her mother were on the floor cradling Bruno in their arms.
“I was yelling for someone to call 911 until I realized my phone was in my hands,” Weaver remembers.
Bruno came to consciousness twice before the ambulance arrived. The first time, she did not recognize anybody.
“That was the most terrifying thing,” Weaver said,” How could I comfort her if she did not know who I was?”
The second time, Bruno was back to her regular self, clearly confused and exhausted but joking like normal.
Bruno, laying in Mrs. Weaver’s lap, hugged her tightly. “I was scared,” she said,” I didn’t have my mom.”
Despite intense snow, the ambulance was able to rush Bruno to Martha Jefferson hospital in order to run some tests.
She was taken directly to get a standard procedure MRI, not expecting anything major to be wrong since she began acting so normal again after the seizure.
The results were a shock.
Bruno and her family learned that she had a brain tumor that had been growing for at least 10 years.
The tumor is big, 3.3cm, about the size of a large grape. It is located on the left side of her brain, 2 inches up from the bottom of her skull. The tumor is a danger to Bruno’s ability to understand or speak, and, un-attended, a danger to Bruno’s life.
“I don’t really think they knew how to tell us,” Bruno said. “I remember doctors came in and pulled up the scan. They had that look in their eyes.
I had that feeling when your chest sinks.”
Singing and music are a huge part of Bruno’s life. She is the drum major for marching band and sings and plays saxophone with the jazz band. She was already looking forward to the return of the jazz band’s annual Swing Into Spring concert at The Jefferson when she had her seizure.
The threat to her ability to speak and sing was especially scary for Bruno.
“Singing is everything to me.”
The tumor at discovery was stage one, meaning it had grown very slowly; however, doctors were unsure if it was cancerous.
“Immediate surgery was really the only option,” Bruno said. “It was not possible for me to leave the hospital without having some kind of treatment.”
Bruno’s father made her a diagram, explaining what was going on in her brain by drawing out the location of the tumor. “I want to understand my own brain,” Bruno said, “it gives me peace to know exactly what’s going on.
It was a lot to process, but I don’t remember feeling scared or crying, it was more accepting reality and convincing myself that I could push through it.”
Since her father works there, Bruno and her family decided to transfer to the UVA hospital for the upcoming surgery.
At first, the tumor looked like an easy removal that could be handled by a pediatric surgeon. Then an angiogram, a type of medical imaging, revealed more complications.
Bruno had blood vessels traveling through the tumor. This made removing it without severe damage to existing brain tissue or uncontrolled bleeding much more difficult.
“It felt like the news just kept getting worse and worse.” It felt like the news just kept getting worse and worse. — Ginny Bruno
It felt like the news just kept getting worse and worse.
— Ginny Bruno
Bruno remembered being nervous about getting her blood drawn and getting weighed at the hospital, things, after being measured and monitored for months, she is now desensitized to.
Along with everything else, she had turned 18 in December and was now classified as an adult. Covid restrictions allowed her only one visitor in her room at specific times, so she went through much of the process by herself.
“I wanted a tattoo when I turned 18, but instead I signed the papers for brain surgery,” she said.
Poked and prodded, Bruno rode a roller coaster of loud machines and sharp needles; woken up routinely through the night for tests and vital checks.
Bruno spent a lot of time inside confined MRI and MRIV machines, unable to move for 20-30 minutes. The use of these magnetic imaging techniques was crucial to monitoring and studying the tumor both before and after surgery.
“They were my time with God,” Bruno said,” I was not lonely in there because I felt Him with me.”
She prayed through most of her time in the machines and listened to worship music.
Bruno has become more of a spiritual person throughout the recovery process. Prior to her seizure, Bruno had been losing touch with her Christian faith.
“The thought that someone could perceive me as hateful, judgmental, or part of a specific political party all because of my faith made me really uncomfortable sharing my beliefs outwardly,” she said.
Her faith, however, helped Bruno remain hopeful in the hospital, especially during times when she was alone and trying to comprehend her tumor.
Along with her renewed faith, Bruno’s friends and family helped her to stay strong.
Her mom became her one visitor and her father’s work at the hospital allowed him to pop by and check on her.
During the day Bruno’s mother, Kate, would help her call friends and navigate her phone, since her doctors prohibited screen time.
Nights were the loneliest for her since her medication caused insomnia and neither of her parents was allowed to stay over. To pass the time, Bruno got to know the night shift nurses.
A week before her seizure, she committed to the JMU nursing program. Bruno has said that her experiences in the hospital only affirmed her choice.
While in the hospital, Bruno would announce her vitals when nurses came to check on her, monitoring herself just as much as they were.
Her nurses were her support system. Not only was Bruno able to confide in them, but also learn a bit about their tasks and what she would be doing as a nurse in the near future.
“I consider some of them to now be my closest friends,” Bruno said.
The night before her surgery was the worst of all. Worried that the next time she woke up she wouldn’t be able to speak or understand anybody, Bruno had an anxiety attack when the nurses came in to draw blood. Two of her favorite nurses rushed to her side, set up the movie Moana, and held her hands until she fell asleep.
Road To Recovery
“I came out of the surgery singing.”
As soon as Bruno regained consciousness the words of the hymn “My God is an awesome God(he reigns)” were on her lips.
Her voice was scratchy, her throat dry, but she could sing. She was alive and could sing, talk, and read.
The surgery lasted seven hours. During the surgery, Bruno’s surgeon Dr. Ashok Asthagiri took about three breaks to collect himself and update Bruno’s parents.
The goal was to remove the entire tumor. In theory, Bruno would be “cured” if that were to happen. However, many complications and too much risk caused Asthagiri to pull back before he was able to remove it all.
A small sample was all that was retrieved during the surgery; however, it was enough to send to pathology in order to diagnose the tumor.
Once sent in, the agonizing wait began to see if the tumor was cancerous and what the next steps to reducing or removing the tumor could be. Bruno and her family would not get the results until the day she returned home.
Asthagiri came to speak with Bruno about her recovery process after the procedure. Steroids would be necessary but cause weight gain, hair loss, and acne. “I know that is not what a teenage girl wants to hear,” he told her.
Bruno looked at him and said, “I’ve never been happier to be fat, bald, and pimply.” I’ve never been happier to be fat, bald, and pimply — Ginny Bruno
I’ve never been happier to be fat, bald, and pimply
— Ginny Bruno
Despite the small celebrations, plenty of hardships were ahead of Bruno.
She suffered a tachycardia episode in the ICU after the surgery that almost caused a heart attack. Her heart began beating much too fast and medication was required to bring it back to a normal rate.
Bruno prayed while it happened and said she did not feel pain, “I was so overwhelmed with the holy spirit.”
As she entered recovery, Bruno began the laborious process of re-learning how to do things like write and walk. The biggest problem for Bruno was building stamina.
Despite being proud of her accomplishments in the hospital, Bruno could not shake her despair at having lost so many of her abilities in such a short time.
“Three weeks ago I was doing crazy moves in Kung Fu, now I’m walking with a walker,” Bruno confided in her mother as she tried to stand from her hospital bed.
Bruno’s days in the hospital looked very repetitive. “My sense of time was kind of lost,” Bruno said. She was ecstatic when it was finally time for her to return home to continue recovery.
The first shower Bruno remembers fully was right before leaving the hospital. Instead of doctors and physical therapists showering her, she got to take a shower with her mom.
“I remember being terrified of her falling since she couldn’t walk or even really stand on her own very well,” Kate Bruno said.
The hardest moment for Kate was when she helped Ginny stand to see herself in the mirror for the first time. “She was a vibrant, active 18-year-old just days prior, and now saw herself as helpless and weak. I wanted to cry with her.”
Home At Last
Nine days after her ordeal began, Jan. 25 brought two major moments. The first was that Bruno was released from the hospital. During the ride home, she looked out the window at the familiar route and remembers a “comforting sense of normalcy” settling over her.
“It was my first time out of a hospital gown in weeks, I felt glorious,” Bruno said.
The same day Bruno and her family received the much-awaited pathology results. Her tumor was benign.
“My whole family just started sobbing and fell to our knees and I gave the glory to God that this was not cancer,” she said. “It was this overwhelming, indescribable feeling to get such a glorious happy moment and we had to soak it all in.”
Despite the momentary relief, the recovery journey ahead was an uphill climb.
Bruno was in a lot of pain for the first couple of weeks, caused both by the procedure and the side effects of heavy medication. Movement was difficult but necessary to regain strength and stability as well as prevent blood clots.
While in physical therapy Bruno prayed through the pain and used those around her to gather strength. Her physical therapist told her recovery was a bigger mental struggle than anything else. “I had finally become confident with my body and where I was in my life, and then I was thrown back to square one,” Bruno said.
Things as simple as getting out of bed now required an immense amount of effort.
“It was hard to rely on people for everything because I am a very independent person, but it has taught me lessons like patience and accepting help from others.”
Bruno had to sit in a chair for her first home shower, an extreme contrast to how she left her house a month before. “I was crying and [senior] Anna [Greenstone] and my Mom showered me,” she said.
The recovery process tested her renewed faith. At times Bruno felt “forsaken” by God when dealing with the pain and frustrations of re-learning actions that used to be easy. While “grateful to be alive,” the occasional feeling that God had abandoned her created a shame spiral.
The doubts, however, ended up increasing the strength of her faith.
“When Jesus was being crucified he cried, Mary cried. They felt forsaken,” Bruno said, “ But they never lost their faith.”
“God wants me to have those feelings. I am human.”
Since being home, Ginny has had really high highs and really low lows. Most of this has been caused by her “laundry list” of medications. These medications have also caused joint pain, muscle soreness, heat flashes, numbness, heart flutters, spotty vision, and insomnia.
“A lot of things were overstimulating and frustrating,” Ginny said, I felt like I was feeling a thousand emotions at once; I still do”
Bruno found comfort in crying during these times of immense emotional surges. “Crying is such a beautiful thing because not only do you get an emotional release, but your body releases chemicals to help you regulate your emotions,” she said.
Along with physical and occupational therapy, Bruno has needed to adapt to many new physical and dietary restrictions.
“I am willing to do whatever I need to do for my body,” Bruno said, “but that is not to say I don’t have moments of resentment for all my restrictions.” I felt like I was feeling a thousand emotions at once — Ginny Bruno
I felt like I was feeling a thousand emotions at once
— Ginny Bruno
On the day of the seizure, Bruno was eating Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks. Her usual order, iced matcha with oat milk, contains about 28 grams of sugar. Sugar she never had to worry about or regulate. Now, five grams of sugar is too much for Bruno’s body to handle and increases inflammation.
Bruno had a breakdown in her kitchen a few weeks after being home. “I just started crying because I couldn’t eat another salad; I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
There are times when Bruno says she misses her old life despite coming to terms with her new one. She has lost many of her teenage freedoms since the seizure.
“It is weird to have my parents drive me around again. I wanna go drive my car, windows down, and listen to music.”
Simple things like scrolling on TikTok for two hours are also restricted. The use of screens could trigger a seizure which Bruno and her family are very diligently avoiding since they found out that scarring from the surgery and tumor had caused induced epilepsy.
“The fact that my life is going to be very different from my friends has been settling in since the beginning, “ Bruno said. She is preparing for at least two years of heavy medication and numerous hospital visits to monitor and try to remove the tumor.
Bruno has been assaulted with all of these lifestyle changes in such a short amount of time but understands that following these new restrictions is necessary to keep herself alive.
Many people have suggested that Bruno take a gap year before heading off to JMU, but she is more determined than ever to start the journey to becoming a nurse, no matter the obstacles she may face to get there.
“If I have to spend my spring break in the hospital instead of at the beach, so be it,” Bruno said, “I am going to college.”
Bruno is considered to have a disability going into JMU. “It’s weird because I feel very able,” Bruno said.
She never thought of herself as being a party girl; however, she did envision a more “normal” college experience including staying out late and going to some parties, even just listening to loud music at concerts.
“I have to just let that go. At the end of the day, I feel like I’m going to be living a more fulfilling life the way I have to anyways.”
Students Show Support
Ever since a Facebook post announcing Ginny’s diagnosis, friends and peers at Albemarle have been showing their support for Bruno and her battle.
When Bruno woke up from surgery, she claimed purple as her recovery color.
The color immediately spread around the school and people began showing support to Bruno by wearing purple clothing, purple ribbons, and even purple #ginnystrong bracelets.
Most touching was when the AHS jazz band surprised Ginny with purple ties at their assessment performance.
“We wanted her to still feel like a part of the group and not like we were moving on without her,” band director Andrew LaPrade said.
“I am astounded by the love and support I received from people I barely even know,” Bruno said, “that is what has kept me strong and allows me to still feel like a part of the school community even from home.”At times, however, Bruno has felt overwhelmed by the attention. “I am just a person too and I don’t want anyone, especially people that have gone through similar things, to feel like they are any less important.”
Bruno said it is hard to describe to others what she is going through. Since seeing her in public, many people have assumed that she is fully recovered while, really, Bruno has just begun her battle.
Over-stimulation has been Bruno’s biggest struggle since her surgery. “When I get overstimulated my ability to speak goes out the window,” Bruno said.
LaPrade recalled her first time back in the school building: “She went to go talk to a bunch of friends who had missed her, and then, all of the sudden, couldn’t make a cohesive sentence. I was scared that something we had done in band had caused it.”
Steadily, Bruno has been building stability and stamina, learning to recognize signs of fatigue before reaching burnout.
“My brain feels like a phone that’s dying. Then I plug it in.”
While struggling with medication-induced insomnia, Bruno has dedicated much of her time to Bible studies and spiritual reflection.
The beginning pages of her Bible study journal are scratched with shaky words that took immense concentration to put on paper. More recent pages are filled with a beautiful and strong script providing an outpouring of spiritual thoughts.
Her brain tumor has also allowed Bruno to spend more time with her family as they take care of her.
“I used to go through the day feeling like I was trying to fit 26 hours into a 24-hour day. Now I have learned the importance of taking care of myself and allowing others to take care of me as well.”
Despite still needing help with everyday tasks, Bruno has made strides in taking back control over her life. Managing her appearance has been one of the most attainable ways for her to achieve that.
“I have had these moments when I look in the mirror and hyper focus on everything I see,” Bruno said.
Initially, Bruno had hair missing where it had been shaved for surgery and lost a good amount from medications. Now it is starting to grow back and get curly again which has boosted her confidence in her appearance.
“This is what healthy looks like for me and I need to remember that I am beautiful.”
Prior to surgery, Bruno loved bold eye makeup. When her aunt brought over purple eyeliner and mascara a week after coming home, Bruno jumped at the chase to put some on. Her hands shook with neuro tremors as she tried to apply the color to her lids. “Even the littlest bit made me feel so much more like myself.”
Bruno has felt defined by her brain tumor. “My dad and I joke about it now,” Bruno said. “We refer to the brain tumor as my Boo Boo to make it seem less scary.” But Bruno is trying to shake the reputation as “girl with the brain tumor” and replace it with musical achievements.
Bruno will always have physical reminders of this experience; scars from needles on her wrists and the incision in her head, but channeling her pain into her music and faith has kept her grounded and given her an outlet for emotions.
A Musical Past
Bruno has been connected to music since childhood. “My dad used to literally put his guitar on my mom’s stomach when she was pregnant and play for me, “ Bruno said.
She got involved with musical theater and sang for her church before finding her passion for band in middle school.
Bruno remembers being in band class at Lakeside Middle School and watching the AHS jazz band perform. She wanted to be them when she reached high school and now has fulfilled that dream.
Besides the jazz band, she is a member of the concert and pep bands, as well as being the drum major for the past two years.
Her contribution to all the various bands is enormous and after her surgery, band members felt Bruno’s absence in every moment.
Bruno didn’t understand the impact she had on her peers until she received a letter from two saxophone players she sits between. “You are a leader even when you are not trying to be,” they wrote.
Away from her band community, Bruno began the emotional task of gaining back her voice.
“I was, for the first time in my life, really insecure to sing. I felt like maybe I sounded different, it felt so weak.”
Bruno began to focus more on worship music, namely songs by Maverick City. “I am filled with strength when I sing for Him,” Bruno said.
“It didn’t sound good, but I was never so happy to be singing.”
It was a huge relief for AHS band director Andrew LaPrade to hear her singing again. “Even if she made it out of surgery, we didn’t know if she would be able to speak let alone sing,” LaPrade said, “It was amazing to hear her.”
Once Bruno got her voice back, she only got louder.
During her first follow-up appointment, Bruno asked when she could safely belt songs.
Her doctors didn’t know what to say; they had never had a patient so dedicated to music before.
Bruno started coming to band practice once or twice a week as the jazz band Swing into Spring performance got closer.
“It wasn’t even on my mind that she would be able to perform at the Jefferson. Once we knew that she was going to be alive, we began to find ways to cover her songs and rearrange pieces around her absence,” LaPrade said.
Bruno stayed in quiet rooms when she wasn’t singing to avoid over-stimulation and made sure not to push herself too hard, especially on her first day back.
“Ginny’s health was the priority,” LaPrade said.
“It is a true testament to her willpower, determination, and love of music that Ginny achieved performing at the Jefferson just a month after brain surgery.”
The Jefferson was packed with parents, peers, and jazz lovers during the Sunday evening show on March 13.
All of the proceeds from Swing into Spring go to The Haven, a local homeless shelter. By the end of this performance over $5,000 was raised to help support people in the community.
Lines formed outside the theater to get into the concert. Inside, the lights were low and a sea of bodies bathed in colored lights from the stage were eagerly anticipating the show. Many people in the audience were there to see Bruno perform: friends, teachers, nurses, and family members alike.
On stage, the jazz band was gleaming with brass.
Bruno was not with them.
She was below the sage in a green room that blocked out all the noise above her.
Bruno returned to the room in between all the songs she performed in an effort to allow her brain to relax during the three-hour show.
“I prayed before, during, and after the event for her to find peace and calm amidst the excitement,” Kate Bruno said. She was filled with “pride and gratitude” to watch her daughter perform again, but could not shake the terror that the loud environment could trigger a medical setback.
“Ginny fought to be in this show,” she said, “so all I could do was trust she knew her own body and watch her shine.”
When Bruno did grace the stage for her first song, her heels could be heard echoing throughout the theater as she strode up to the microphone.
Her dress was a shade of glittering purple, her eyes brushed in the same color.
A song called “Green Piece” by Maria Schneider was Bruno’s debut. The audience was filled with nervous energy as they awaited Bruno’s first notes.
“All of my worries melted away and I felt truly in the moment,” Bruno said. “On that stage I felt free.”
Throughout the show Bruno sang six songs, some solos and others duets with senior Renae George, her high tones complimenting George’s low ones.
Bruno sang beautifully backed up by the loud and lively jazz ensemble. Those who had been holding their breath let it out a little as, song after song, Bruno and the Band brought the house down.
“It was an amazing feeling to have her on stage with us. The whole time she was singing I was just thinking to myself ‘this is ridiculous,” LaPrade said.
The show continued smoothly the entire night as guest musicians and alumni came up to perform. The audience was entranced in the music, and before they knew it the last song was upon them.
The entire band and all guest musicians came together on stage to perform Aint No Mountain High Enough to the close the night. A performance that earned them a standing ovation.
Family members and friends flooded the stage, hugging and congratulating members of the band.
The music had filled everyone with joy, but none so much as Bruno. “I was just so thankful that God allowed me to use my gift of singing that this tumor tried to take away from me.”
Looking to the Future
Since the performance, Bruno has continued to perform with the jazz band and build stamina for schoolwork.
She attended senior prom where she won prom queen.
As Bruno regains her independence, her parents have been able to go back to working more often. The financial burden for the surgery and the medical assistance to come is immense, especially as Bruno is preparing to leave for JMU in the fall.
Bruno and her family have been amazed by the generosity of their community, both financially through a go fund me account, a meal train, and other thoughtful actions during the brunt of the recovery process.
“So many people took care of me and showed me support when I needed it most, even people I wasn’t close with. I will forever be thankful for them,” Ginny said.
Although her initial plan was to march with the JMU Royal Dukes, alto saxophone is now too dangerous for Bruno to play due to the pressure it can build in her head. Despite this small setback, Bruno is excited that she still has the opportunity to sing with the JMU jazz band. She has already begun working with future peers to assemble a list of songs to sing with them next year.
In between band and schoolwork, Bruno has been in and out of the hospital for checkups and preparations for the next steps in reducing or removing the tumor. Bruno and her family have decided to go through with gamma knife radiation, a non-invasive procedure UVA hospital offers. The procedure will be taking place every morning at 5 a.m. the week of May 22.
Over the next days, months and years, Bruno will continue her fight against the brain tumor, her “booboo.” “I look to God for strength in my future and have faith that I am more determined than the tumor is.
I have grown so much from this experience that I wouldn’t change it even if I could.”
For more information visit the Ginny Bruno Facebook page.