Artist Rebecca Kamen's Story | Brain Tumor on Her Optic Nerve | MedStar Health

Artist Rebecca Kamen Explores Her Artwork Using Her Medical Scare

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Rebecca Kamen is an artist and lecturer whose work has dealt with the intersections of art and science for over 35 years. In good health for most of her life, she was surprised to find herself experiencing symptoms of vertigo during an artist residency in the fall of 2019 and she was rushed to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to rule out a stroke. What the doctor’s found instead was a brain tumor on her optic nerve.

Neurosurgeon Vikram V. Nayar, MD, was on call and took over Kamen’s case, encouraging her to consider surgery immediately to slow the growing meningioma on the nerve. Kamen was impressed with his calm assessment, confidence, and the time he took to answer her questions. She quickly agreed to undergo the unexpected 10-hour surgery.

After the procedure, Kamen experienced temporary double vision for a short period of time. This provided Kamen with inspiration to explore her artwork in a whole new way by creating a painting every day, which she saw as research while the mild side effects lasted. “Distilling this experience through artwork makes it less fearful and can lead to deeper understanding,” she says.

Having to travel in from out of town to continue her follow up care at MedStar Georgetown, Kamen was committed to continuing treatment under Dr. Nayar, who she says treated her with compassion.

“The whole neuroscience team that helped me through this, they were truly amazing. I was reluctant at first coming to Washington, D.C., but for me the people at Dr. Nayar’s office were wonderful. They were just incredible in terms of explaining things,” Kamen shares. “As a college professor I’m a people person, I’m highly sensitive to how I’m treated. Dr. Nayar is a very special human being.”

In July of 2020, Kamen was readmitted for an additional procedure near the surgical area and continues to be thankful for the attention to detail that Dr. Nayar provides. “He was an advocate for me, and I am very thankful to him,” she says.

Kamen is now home recovering and looks back on this time as a positive. The experience enhanced her art and provided new perspectives while exploring her surgical images alongside her medical team. “When you research something like the brain as a non-medical person, for you to be the one going under the knife—it has been humbling, gratifying, and inspiring,” she says.

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