Category Archives: Facial Pain

Surgery to Remove Schwannoma Leads to Relief from Tumour Pain in Face

Feature Image of a woman holding her face in her hands is sourced from:

Dear Pain Matters readers,

When severe pain is caused by tumours, benign or cancerous, surgery including stereotactic radiosurgery to remove the tumour may be the most effective way to reduce or eliminate tumour-induced pain.

A Decade of Severe Facial Pain Caused by an Undiagnosed Tumour

Stereotactic Radiosurgery of Schwannoma Leads to Pain Relief

Michelle Ellerbe, married and mother of 2 daughters, suffered a decade of severe facial pain.

Michelle’s excruciating pain started on the right side of her face in 2008 after giving birth to her second child.

In her words,

‘I felt a sharp pain radiate from my right ear to my right nostril … The whole day, the pains got worse. … I went to emergency … They told me I had Bell’s palsy, gave me steroids and sent me home.’

During her next emergency room visit a week later, she undertook numerous tests including MRI, CT scan and blood tests – but still no correct diagnosis.

Despite seeing countless doctors, taking ‘too many pain pills’ (ibuprofen, oxycodone, morphine, methadone and Dilaudid) and antiseizure medication and undergoing multiple surgeries and procedures (e.g. Gamma Knife procedure, nerve blocks), Michelle’s facial pain persisted more than 2 years.

A doctor diagnosed trigeminal neuralgia while another doctor performed a glycerol nerve block, to no avail.  A neurosurgeon performed craniotomy while an oral surgeon extracted all of her teeth on the right side of her mouth, all without success.

In Michelle’s words,

‘I was broken.  Everyone started saying they can’t help me, and kept giving me more medication.  I was taking 22 pills a day to show up at work. … I thought I was going to die from an overdose.’

Then one day, Michelle saw Dr Philip Stieg, a neurosurgeon in New York.  After diagnostic imaging, Dr Stieg found a tumour, specifically, a Schwannoma around her trigeminal nerve.  Usually benign in nature, a Schwannoma is a nerve sheath tumour that develops from the Schwann cell.

Whilst dismissed as ‘calcification’ on an older CT scan dated 2013, this (growing) tumour was (likely) the source of her severe facial pain for a decade.

Stereotactic radiosurgery was done to eliminate the tumour.  After 3 radiation therapy sessions, Michelle reduced her daily intake of pain pills from 22 to 7, and later on, a maximum of 2 pain tablets a day.

Whilst Michelle still has some residual pain due to nerve damage caused by all the past surgeries and procedures, her quality of life is significantly improved.

In Michelle’s words,

‘I’m off all of that medication …this summer, … I will be on a beach or sitting in a park with my family enjoying the breeze pain free!’

For more details, please see:

Michelle Ellerbe’s Story

NewYork-Presbyterian (2019)


Tumour facial pain may be effectively treated via surgery including stereotactic radiosurgery to remove the tumour.



Wishing all pain patients inspiration, hope and empowerment

Sabina Walker

Masters Appl. Science (Neuroscience)

Blogger, Pain Matters (in WordPress)


Author of soon-to-be published book called Pain Matters