Panthers LB James Anderson’s mother tackles brain tumor

jperson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 22, 2012 

Brenda Anderson has a scar that runs from the top of her head to her neck, and the only Panthers game she attended overwhelmed her. But 10 weeks after her September brain surgery, she has a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Brenda Anderson couldn’t teach for nine weeks. She has a scar that runs from the top of her head to her neck, and the only Carolina Panthers game she attended overwhelmed her.

But 10 weeks after her September brain surgery, the mother of Panthers linebacker James Anderson has a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving – improved health, a loving network of family and friends and a full house for the holidays.

“My doctor told me that going through the surgery I went through, a lot of people are still learning how to walk and learning how to talk,” Brenda Anderson said this week in a phone interview.

Anderson, 51, was diagnosed seven years ago with a benign meningioma, a tumor that arises from the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. She took medication to slow the growth of the tumor and continued teaching first grade at Western Branch Primary in Chesapeake, Va.

But Anderson began getting headaches and spells of dizziness and fatigue this past summer, and went in for a stress test, which she failed. Her cardiologist discovered a blood clot in her heart, and put her on blood-thinning medicine.

Soon after, she began having trouble with her vision. “Lights started flashing like someone was taking flashlights and putting them right in my eyes,” she said.

She returned to the hospital, where doctors initially thought she’d had a stroke. An MRI exam revealed Anderson’s tumor had grown, and was affecting the vision in her right eye.

Surgery was scheduled for Sept. 10, a day after the Panthers’ opener at Tampa Bay. Anderson accompanied her husband, James Sr., that weekend to N.C. AT&T, where James Sr., a former basketball player, was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame.

On Monday morning, she was back in Virginia for the 2 1/2-hour procedure. After his game against the Buccaneers, Anderson flew from Charlotte to Norfolk and was by his mother’s side when she came out of surgery.

‘It’s scary’

“It’s scary because they told you the possible outcomes, some of the effects. They’ve got to tell you worst-case scenario,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Any time you deal with that organ in your body, it affects everything you do. If they touch the wrong part of your brain or do something crazy, you could be blind. She could have been paralyzed.

“When you think about that and they say it’s really invasive surgery, you’re just on pins and needles and in prayer pretty much the whole time she was in there.”

Two days after doctors removed the 8-millimeter tumor, Brenda Anderson was home recuperating. She had trouble reading, writing and doing anything that forced her to concentrate.

She began feeling better in October and decided to go to the Panthers’ home game against Dallas on Oct. 21.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “There was so many people and my brain was trying to process everything that was going on. And it was, ‘Wow.’ ”

Anderson returned to school on Nov. 5, meeting the students who had made her get-well cards following her surgery.

Continued recovery

She still is forced to sleep on her side because lying on her back causes her too much pain near the incision.

While her husband and two other sons have gone to Panthers games in person, Brenda has watched them on TV. She is planning on being at Bank of America Stadium for the Falcons game on Dec. 9.

“I would rather be with (James) because we get that dialogue after the game. I can see how he’s feeling or if he’s hurt,” Brenda said. “I miss that.”

Like the rest of his teammates, Anderson has been struggling to deal with this disappointing season. The loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday dropped the Panthers to 2-8, putting coach Ron Rivera’s future further in doubt.

“It’s tough in this situation with the atmosphere and the things that are going on outside of football,” Anderson said. “But you’ve just got to stay focused on the task at hand and do your job.”

Anderson has more perspective this year. While he eats Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at his uncle’s house in Concord, he’ll be thinking of his mother and the rest of his family in Virginia.

“Dealing with a lot of stuff going on, this year you really sit back and are thankful to see another day,” he said. “The little things that we tend to overlook, we really value those things now.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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