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Thunderbolt goes from brain tumor to bodybuilder
Betty Vasquez, wife of Tech. Sgt. Frank Hatcher, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron, poses for a photo. Vasquez was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005 when she was 33. After the tumor was removed, she made a decision to get fit and now competes in bodybuilding competitions in the figure portion of the shows.
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Thunderbolt goes from brain tumor to bodybuilder

Posted 8/12/2008   Updated 8/12/2008 Email story   Print story


56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

8/12/2008 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Betty Vasquez, 36, is not your typical medical assistant. 

Vasquez, who works for a dermatologist in Sun City West, has a unique perspective when dealing with the skin cancer cases she sees on a daily basis. In 2005, doctors found a tumor on the cerebellum of her brain close to the brain stem, so she knows what it is like to be on the other side of the counter having to wait for results. 

Vasquez's journey began when she and her husband Tech. Sgt. Frank Hatcher, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron, were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and she decided she wanted to get in shape and hired a personal trainer. 

During Vasquez's first session with her new trainer at the Kadena fitness center, he told her to change her diet and get rid of caffeine. 

"I was drinking a pot of coffee a day but, I gave it up before I went to my next training session," she said. "I was doing bicep curls with five-pound dumbbells and my head was throbing." 

Two days later her head was still hurting so she called her primary care doctor who told her to come in for an appointment. 

Three days later, Vasquez was back to drinking coffee and her headache was gone, but she kept her appointment. Her doctor recommended an MRI, just to be on the safe side. 

"And that's when they found it (the tumor)," Vasquez remembers. "It's strange. Had I not given up caffeine and decided to become a fit person, they probably wouldn't have found the tumor until it was too late." 

Vasquez got the MRI on Friday and Saturday morning, two days after her 33rd birthday, she and her husband were sitting with her doctor looking at the one-centimeter tumor that showed up on the scan. 

"After that, everything happened pretty quickly," Vasquez said. "The doctors at Okinawa sent us to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii to get a second opinion." 

Sergeant Hatcher, Vasquez's husband of 14 years, recalled that the doctor at Tripler said he could do the surgery but Betty wouldn't come out of it the same. 

"The doctor said, 'We don't think your posture will be the same, and you may be in a wheelchair,'" Sergeant Hatcher remembers. 

"We said 'Well, thank you for your time, but no thank you,'" Vasquez said. "We went back to Okinawa and met with the neurosurgeon there as a follow up." 

Her doctors at Okinawa wanted to monitor the growth of the tumor, so she had to go into her neurosurgeon's office at the navy hospital twice a month to get scanned. A few MRIs later, two more growths showed up on the film. 

With that information, the Air Force put a rush on Vasquez's case and transferred Sergeant Hatcher to Luke, which put them near to her sister and the Barrow Neurological Institute of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. 

"Even though they had the facilities to do the surgery in Japan, my doctor thought that it was in my best interest, considering the location of the tumor, to get treated at Barrow. They also wanted to make sure where ever I went I had a neurosurgeon, an oncologist and a hematologist just in case things went the other way," Vasquez said. "The Air Force absolutely took care of me, Barrow has one of the top neurosurgery departments in the country my doctor, Dr. Nicholas Theodore, was wonderful. He reassured me that I was going to wake up and be healthy and fine." 

The doctors at Barrow did a few MRI's of their own, and it turned out the two newer spots on Vasquez's latest MRI were just shadows on the film, leaving them only the original tumor to deal with. 

While Vasquez was waiting for her surgery date, she found that working out at the gym was a good way to cope. 

"That was the only thing I could do; everything else was out of control," she said. "The only thing I could control was my workouts." 

On Sept. 21, 2005, exactly eight months after the discovery of Vasquez's tumor, it was removed. Two days later, because of the shape that she was in from all of her pre-surgery work outs, her doctor released her from the hospital. A week later, the results came back that the tumor was benign. 

The surgery put Vasquez completely out of commission for eight weeks. In the beginning of her recovery period, she had balance problems and was physically exhausted.
"My system was completely wiped-out. I would get up and set the table to eat, and then fall asleep. It was exhausting," she said. 

After fully recovering from her surgery, Vasquez decided to pick up where she left off in Japan and hired a personal trainer at a local gym in June 2007. Three months later, she competed in the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural in the figure portion of the competition. 

"Women who do figure aren't as muscular as bodybuilders," Vasquez said. "We still have muscle, but are still feminine. We have posing suits that are blinged out with crystals." 

Vasquez, who has competed and placed in three shows since the Arizona Natural, competes with the OCB and National Physique Committee in the age and height categories. 

"Age is more fun," Vasquez said. "But height matters more because if you place first in the NPC, you compete against other 1st place winners to be the overall winner. The overall winner is eligible to compete for their pro-card." 

"I am so proud of her," Sergeant Hatcher said. "This is a girl who never stepped foot in a gym or played any sports in high school. It's a good lifestyle she has adopted. We ran the other morning and she whipped my butt!" 

The 56th Services Squadron Community Center is featuring a bodybuilding competition Saturday, but it doesn't include figure, so Vasquez will be attending as a guest poser, not as a competitor. 

Vasquez doesn't plan on competing forever, but wants to continue the healthy, clean lifestyle she has been living, which includes going to the gym six days a week, two times a day. 

"I do this now because I can. Before my surgery, I thought I might never be able to walk a straight line or worse, be in a wheelchair. I am lucky enough to have come through this and I thought, 'Why not? Let's jump in and see how far I can take this!'" 

And how far is she going to take it? 

"Betty has a type-A personality," Sergeant Hatcher said. "She is not going to quit until she gets the trophy for first place or until someone takes her off stage and says, 'Hey, grandma, you can't be up here anymore!"

8/21/2014 4:30:09 PM ET
I am 40 years old and 8 years ago I had a brain fun. I go back every 6 months for an MRI. Better safe than sorry. You look terrific. Just started walking around a track. Feels great to move after being in a coma for over 100 days. Keep up the great work. You are an inspiration.
Lisa, NJ USA
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