DOWNEY – The long road from despair to hope ended for Pearl Crosby-Dillon as she stood beside thousands of flowers in the soft sunlight of a quiet December morning.

She had recently crossed an ocean with her family, coming to Downey from her native County Roscommon, Ireland – a journey she never could have imagined seven months ago.

Crosby-Dillon was hospitalized in May and diagnosed with an inoperable cyst on her pineal gland, deep in her brain. For years she had suffered from near constant migraines, blurred vision, severe fatigue and other symptoms. She was left without energy to spend time with her family. Eventually the migraines struck with such frequency that they blended into the background, a constant presence dulling the senses.

The cyst turned out to be a life-threatening tumor, but a chance meeting with a group of tourists from Downey led to a successful operation and chance to live life anew.

Today, Crosby-Dillon will be featured as a guest rider on Downey’s entry to the Rose Parade, a float called “The Glass Slipper,” a nod to the Cinderella story. She was invited to ride by the Downey Rose Float Association, not only in commemoration of the special bond she now shares with the city, but in honor of the Rose Parade theme of “Dreams Come True.”

Crosby-Dillon plans to tour the region for the next few days with her husband, Niall, her 9-year-old daughter, Katie, and 6-year-old son, Tommy.

“I was ill for the last six or seven years, and they said they couldn’t remove (the cyst),” she said. “I decided to look further.”

She searched the Internet for specialists and found Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, director at the Los Angeles-based Skull Base Institute and a pioneer in a minimally invasive brain surgery technique to remove tumors and perform other procedures.

At that same time, Crosby-Dillon’s father, Tom, was with a delegation from Downey — the new sister city to Roscommon County.

Two people in the delegation, Maureen Gaffney Wolfson and her husband, Steven, struck up a conversation with Tom, who told them about his daughter’s condition.

“Steve said he knew a surgeon,” Crosby-Dillon said. “He had a heart operation, and he asked the surgeon if he knew Dr. Shahinian. Within two hours he set up contact. We had an online conference and Dr. Shahinian said it was a pineal tumor, not a cyst.”

The tumor was removed on Oct. 8 by Shahinian at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. The days of near constant migraines, blurred vision, blackouts and fatigue were gone.

Crosby-Dillon stood beside the float on that quiet New Year’s Eve morning, seemingly in awe.

“It’s just so amazing, the level of detail here, using all the flower and seeds to decorate this,” she said. “We don’t have anything like this back in Ireland.”

Downey Rose Float Association members say they are honored to have Crosby-Dillon ride on the float and that they are grateful to all the volunteers who worked to make sure the float was ready on time for the parade.

“If you saw this float yesterday, you wouldn’t have believed we could finish,” Gary DeRemeer, president of the Downey Rose Float Association said Tuesday morning. “We worked from 8 p.m. last night to 7:45 a.m. today nonstop.”

Crosby-Dillon stood by the float and reflected on the last year.

“It’s just like being on a different planet,” she said. “It’s my birthday today. I’m turning 38. Just to be able to do stuff with my family again …”

She beamed as Katie and Tommy dashed around the float, excited for the adventure ahead. On Jan. 3 the family plans to head to San Diego to visit Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and take in the California sunshine.

“This is closing out a difficult year in 2013,” Niall said. “We’re looking forward to 2014, having a normal family life, just resuming that normality — it’s something you don’t miss until it’s been taken away.”

Publication: Long Beach Press Telegram
By Greg Yee
Published December 31, 2013