T-Boz: “I Had A Brain Tumour”


In news that will no doubt come as a shock to many, TLC’s T-Boz has revealed, in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE magazine, that she has been battling a brain tumour. The article below, in which she confirms that the grapefruit-sized tumour has been removed, is a long, but ultimately engaging read:

Looking at her now, you’d never know that Tionne Watkins, better known as T-Boz of the 90’s girl group TLC, has secretly battled a brain tumour for nearly three years. She hid her struggle (which took away her ability to speak for months) on The Celebrity Apprentice in March. “I didn’t want pity – I was there to help sick children,” says Watkins, who also has sickle-cell disease, an often-fatal blood disorder marked by chronic fatigue and organ failure. “I was told I wouldn’t live past 30 or have children.” Watkins, who lives with daughter Chase, 8, in Atlanta, shares her story for the first time with PEOPLE’s “Jessica Herndon.

Because of my sickle-cell disease, I have a high tolerance for pain. By 2006, I’d have headaches for six years. I thought it was stress. But when my vision went blurry, I got an MRI.

Turns out, she had a grapefruit-size acoustic neuroma (which are noncancerous) on her vestibular nerve, which affected her balance, hearing, sight and facial movement.

I thought, “God, why now?” I told the doctor my goal was not to die – I had to be there for Chase.

Watkins consulted many doctors who refused to remove the tumour, citing sickle-cell-related complications, like lung or heart failure. The alternatives (like burning her brain stem) were grim. Keith L. Black, M.D., and Rick A. Friedman, M.D., of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, thought surgery was possible if they worked with a blood specialist.

Dr Black asked me in what order did I want to save these three things: my hearing, balance and facial movement. I said save my facial control first and hearing second, because you wouldn’t be able to tell if I can’t hear well just from looking at me. At least I’d have hearing on one side. Then save my balance last. But I worried about it. What if I couldn’t sing or dance? Music is my heart.

During the November 7th, 2006, surgery, Dr. Black cut behind her ear and peeled the tumour from the brain stem. The surgery took about seven hours. (I had written my will – I might not have made it.) When I woke awoke, I could hear and looked normal. But then I had a sickle-cell crisis. With the pain meds and steroids, they said I kept flopping and hitting my head. They gave me IV fluids in order to stop it.

After I was released, more than a week later, the ride to my L.A. apartment was like vertigo to the 10th power. I had to sit up in bed for two months. They propped me up, but I kept sliding down, which made my head swell. It was so painful. At one point, fluid poured out my nose. I was readmitted. I couldn’t walk or really see. I heard screeching noises. They said “We may have to cut you open again” I was like, “No!” I prayed, and the fluid stopped, so I got out.

When I was eating pancakes four days later, they fell out my mouth. I couldn’t feel my cheek. I couldn’t blink, walk or form words. When I saw my face was distorted — I cried. Two weeks later Chase, who stayed with my aunt in Atlanta, and I were on iChat and she was like, “Mom, you look pretty.” I don’t know what she saw, but it made me feel better. In rehabbed, I had to relearn how to walk and how to say my ABCs. I can relate to deaf people: You think you’re saying “where” but your mouth goes “whaa”. When Chase visited me, she’d hold my cheeks and kiss me. She didn’t treat me like I looked funny.

Though self-conscious about her face, Watkins’s speech improved within a year, and she performed with TLC at the June 2008 BET Awards.

I knew I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t talk straight or keep my balance, and my lungs were weak. Fans asked if I had a stroke. It was not a good night.

Now, with dance therapy, Watkins hasn’t fully regained her balance, but she feels ready to perform. TLC will play at Justin Timberlake’s charity concert in Las Vegas Oct. 17.

If you say “sick kids,” you always get me. People like Justin have shown me love. He’s excited. So am I.

To this day, the headaches are unbelievable. My facial nerves jump, and I want my smile back. But if that’s all? No problemo. I fight to be here daily because I want to see Chase get married and have kids. I want to party and laugh. I’m doing a solo album, and I want to tour. I have to see if I can do it. I’m still here. It will take way more to stop me.

Wow! Her story is so, so inspiring. I pray that God grants her many more years on this earth; she really deserves it. More power to her.

Your thoughts?

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  1. Leon October 2, 2009

    T-Boz is such an inspiration. I love her even more after learning how much she has had to struggle with despite everything she has been through. I pray she continues many more long years of good health. She working on her solo album which I can’t wait to hear.

  2. Tonio October 2, 2009

    See things like this makes me think, the little problems we go through is nothing at all. We complain so much about small things and it’s people out there who would love to have what we easily possess every day. I hope T-Boz continue to get well and be happy & humble. I love stories like this because it forces me to look at myself and improve the things I complain about, it matures me and makes me better. Thank You T-Boz.

  3. La’Wayne October 2, 2009

    im so speechless right now….WOW

  4. Lovelarah October 2, 2009

    GO GIRL!

    Love her so much, great lady.

  5. Ufix October 3, 2009

    TBOZ is an inspiration…To think that she kept this secret for over 2 years while she battled for her life is amazing considering celebs get away with NO PRIVACY whatsoever these days. She’s so strong, can you imagine not only did she perform on BET, fly to Japan to headline a concert, appear on the apprentice and raise a child by herself, but she also recorded a solo album!! Beauty…

  6. static October 3, 2009

    tboz, god bless u! God has been with u diz whole time, dont worry u have many more years to come, just keep on praying and all shall be well, god will pour a miracle in to u, i no dat, so keep on praying

  7. MG October 3, 2009

    I am inspired by this. She is amazing. This is a story that needs to be shared to everyone, especially the celebrities (if you wanna call them that) of today. Her story is one of triumph.

  8. MG October 3, 2009

    forgot to add – that anyone of today’s so-called celebs should read this before they complain about being hounded by papz (when they go to places guranteed to have papz hanging out) and the like.

  9. Anonymous October 3, 2009

    That is so sad i thanks to god things will be alright.

  10. Will October 4, 2009

    We love you T-boz and I will keep you in my prayers…and your definitely gonna make it!!!!.

  11. ANonymous November 5, 2009

    I was also treated for a large Acoustic Neuroma back in 2003. Kudos to T-Boz for keeping positive and continuing her life’s work as an entertainer. I know how hard it was to regain my balance, battle headaches, and look like you had a stroke. People unfortunately judge on looks and never bothered to ask why I looked that way.

    Tionne, I hope that you continue to heal and become stronger, It does indeed make you a stronger person! Also getting the word out about Acoustic Neuroma and those of us that have had to be treated for it. Thanks for letting me share!

  12. esspee August 15, 2010

    now thats a bad b****. badd than yerrrssss

  13. jasmine November 22, 2010

    strong woman…nothing left to say,!

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