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February 14, 2023

Young Father Discovers Cancer After A Random Accident

by Brianna Rauchman

A father’s vacation accident led to the discovery of cancer throughout his body. Follow Tanner’s journey through diagnosis, treatment, and brain surgery with the dedicated teams at Pacific Neuroscience Institute® and Saint John’s Health Center.

A Lucky Accident 

Man riding recreational utility terrain vehicle in the dessert

Soaring across the sand dunes in a recreational utility terrain vehicle (UTV), Tanner savored every moment spent in the rolling desert landscape… until his vehicle suddenly careened out of control. Miraculously uninjured, he courageously attempted to hoist up the toppled vehicle, when he felt a sharp tear in his chest. 

Upon returning home, Tanner scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic doctor to assess his injury. As anticipated, he had a tear in his right pectoral muscle. However, this wasn’t the doctor’s main concern. Tanner also had numerous tumors in his armpit.  

A Difficult Diagnosis

A young father with a 2 year-old daughter and 4 month-old son, Tanner feared for his family’s future as he faced a difficult diagnosis: cancer.  

Soon after, Tanner sought treatment at Saint John’s Health Center and Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA, where he received leading edge care from a team of dedicated and distinguished physicians and surgeons.  

Initially, Tanner met with Trevan Fischer, MD, a surgical oncologist at Saint John’s Health Center and an assistant professor at Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Dr. Fischer quickly diagnosed Tanner’s cancer as metastatic lesions that had spread to the lymph nodes in his armpit. However, the question remained: Where did this cancer originate? And where else had it metastasized? After performing a thorough examination, Dr. Fischer located a small spot on Tanner’s collar bone. However, this tiny freckle was far from innocuous.  

Persona touching mole on neck

The tumors began as a melanoma, a cancer of the melanocytes (the skin’s pigment-producing cells). Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. While melanoma only accounts for 1% of skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, it results in the great majority of skin cancer deaths.  

Why is that? Melanoma spreads rapidly, and the further it metastasizes, the more dangerous it becomes. After confirming Tanner’s diagnosis, Dr. Fischer began a race against time. 

The Scan That Changed Everything

Buzz. Buzz. Click.  

Empty MRI

Thump. Thump. Tap.  

Two scans determined Tanner’s future by detecting how far the cancer had spread. As expected, the PET scan verified isolated tumors in the armpit lymph nodes. The MRI, however, revealed a daunting finding.  

Pack a bag. You might need emergency brain surgery.” – Dr. Fischer 

Less than 24 hours after Dr. Fischer identified Tanner’s brain tumor, he called upon his colleagues, and a team of expert physicians convened at Pacific Neuroscience Institute®’s Brain Tumor Center.  

Board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon, Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, developed a comprehensive treatment plan alongside a dedicated team, including medical oncologist, Timothy Kristedja, MD, and Steven O’Day, MD, former executive director of Saint John’s Cancer Institute. After thoroughly mapping the tumor’s location, Dr. Barkhoudarian estimated that Tanner, in the absence of treatment, would have six months to live. However, with minimally invasive brain tumor surgery to avoid collateral damage to surrounding structures resulting in faster recovery and a short hospital length of stay, Tanner could have a new lease of life.

Now or Never

One week after Tanner’s brain tumor was discovered, the affected lymph nodes were removed and he underwent the complicated brain tumor surgery that saved his life. 

Following a brief observation period, Tanner returned home to his family the very next morning. And, to everyone’s surprise and delight, he attended a neighborhood barbecue that afternoon. 

Brain surgery took place on a Thursday. He was back to work by Monday.  

I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I think the team up here saved my life.

I don’t know that it could have been much better. I mean, not being here of course would’ve been the best, but for what I’ve got, for what we’re dealing with, I think it’s pretty much the best place you could be.


On The Other Side Of Cancer

When Tanner’s UTV flipped, so did his entire world. The love of his family, friends, and community gave him the strength and support he needed. His choice of the dedicated team of doctors at Pacific Neuroscience Institute and Saint John’s Health Center, ensured that he would receive the pinnacle of quality care.  

Tanner is back to work, play, and most important of all, he is back with his friends and family. Watching his children grow, he cherishes even more the privilege and awe of fatherhood.

Click here to watch Tanner’s story.

For more information about the Pacific Brain Tumor Center at PNI-Santa Monica, call 310-582-7450.

About Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD

Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, FAANS, is a board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon with a focus on skull base and minimally invasive endoscopic surgery. Dr. Barkhoudarian has particular interest and expertise in pituitary and parasellar tumors, brain tumors, skull-base tumors (including meningiomas, craniopharyngiomas, chordomas and schwannomas), intra-ventricular brain tumors, colloid cysts, trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm and other vascular compression syndromes.

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About the Author

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman, BA, is the Communications Coordinator for the Lifestyle Program, where she helps develop outreach strategies to connect with an expanding audience. Her responsibilities include providing launch support, developing content, assisting with collateral design, and planning social media strategies.

Last updated: February 18th, 2023