I’m Rachel & almost 3 years ago at the age of 50 I heard those words we all dread …” I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer.” THE C WORD was bad enough, but this was brain cancer.
I will take you back to a Saturday evening in September, three years ago, a normal Saturday catching up with shopping & jobs around the house. As a primary school teacher it had been my first week back in the classroom after the summer break. I had a lovely new class & I was very much looking forward to the year ahead, getting to know the children and having fun learning together.
I was woken up at 3 am with my husband kneeling at the side of the bed & two unknown men looming over me (paramedics). I was terrified! It transpired that I had been having a tonic clonic seizure & had been unconscious for 20 minutes.
A trip to A & E, several scans later & a stay over the weekend revealed a possible ‘something’ on my brain. I had to wait several weeks for the brain to calm & electrical impulses to lessen following the seizure before a detailed MRI scan revealed a brain tumour. Luckily, a seizure in my sleep revealed this tumour. Who knows what could have happened had it have been a seizure whilst driving? I had NO other symptoms. Nothing in my visual field or headaches.
Surgery was scheduled for the week before Christmas 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham which has a specialist neuro team. All went well in the 5 hour operation. The tumour had spread from my right frontal lobe across the central line to the left hemisphere. (Hence the seizure) Unfortunately not all the tumour could be removed due to its complexity & the way it had grown through the brain. It was debulked & as much of the tumour that could be safely removed was taken out. Pathology results showed that it as a cancerous grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma. A glioma -one the most common type of tumours in adults. An astrocytoma has a star shaped cell structure.
As this is an incurable type of tumour, palliative treatments were planned. That was a shock, surely cancer can be cured in the 21st century? I was given an estimated life span of 3 to 6 years.
Radiotherapy & chemotherapy were planned under the guidance of the neuro-oncology team at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital.
I had 33 sessions of radiotherapy over 7 weeks & at the same time 6 weeks of an oral chemotherapy drug called temozolomide. A double whammy!
Then a year of the same oral chemotherapy drug but just 5 days every 30 days. It didn’t make me feel too sick, but the radiotherapy was draining & steroids helped plus the positivity of the radiotherapy team at the QE who made wearing the custom-made mask bearable.
I’m living well with cancer & I joined every cancer support group going. Meeting other people with brain tumours helped me see that life is possible. Initially the tumour was still growing but I have had 5 stable brain scans, every 12 weeks over the last 60 months with no more visible growth seen. So, life carries on. Unfortunately, I had to stop teaching after 30 years as treatment took priority but being retired (early) isn’t so bad!
Charities helped with the essential knowledge & know how of how to navigate through the ‘Cancer world.’ Macmillan make life bearable with their unwavering support networks & a big shout out to The Brainstrust charity for their free Brain Box full of helpful booklets & top tips.
Also, Brain Tumour Research whose vision is to find a cure for brain tumours.
Brain tumour research remains the most underfunded branch of cancer research.