Dr. Minasian with her teen brain tumor patient

Rebecca Pasillas finds joy in swimming, horseback riding, and savoring Hot Cheetos with a zesty twist of lemon. But in August 2022, her life took an unexpected turn when she started experiencing persistent sickness. Initially, her parents, Dennise Mojica and Victor Pasillas attributed it to stomach irritation from eating spicy and citrus foods. But as the symptoms got worse, her family grew concerned.

"Something's going on," Mojica said. "We took her to the emergency department, and they said we will keep her for one night to see how she's doing. Next thing you know, the room was full of doctors and nurses."

What they thought was a stomach-related issue turned out to be something far more serious — a brain tumor. Rebecca and her parents vividly remember the moment she received the diagnosis. "We thought it was going to be something simple," her mother said, "but then they told us she had a tumor on the brain and that she was going to need surgery right away. It was like, what?"

Now 14 years old, Rebecca said she was confused about what was happening to her health. "I wasn't sure if I was dreaming.”

Rebecca was under the care of Tanya Minasian, DO, FACS, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.

"Rebecca had a CT scan that showed a large hemorrhagic tumor causing compression of the brain," said Minasian. "She needed an emergent surgery (called a craniotomy) for removal of the tumor.  Because of the size of the tumor and associated severe brain swelling, she was essentially in a comatose state and in critical condition prior to surgery. When she woke up immediately after surgery, we were all incredibly grateful.”

The journey to recovery was challenging, but Rebecca's spirit shined through. After two surgeries — one to remove the tumor and another to place a plate on her head — she spent 10 days in the hospital surrounded by a team of dedicated doctors and nurses.

Through each step of the journey, the medical team made sure the family was well-informed and understood the process, making them feel at ease as much as possible.

"We felt like we were at the right place with the right people," Pasillas said.

As Rebecca approaches her sophomore year in high school, she feels better and embraces life with newfound gratitude and strength. Her courage throughout this challenging experience has inspired many around her.

Her parents encourage others to get a medical check-up, even when experiencing seemingly unrelated or non-severe symptoms. While a brain tumor may not be the primary concern, a proactive approach to health is essential.

To learn more about pediatric neurosurgery or the LLUH pediatric brain and spine tumor support group, visit online.