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Duncan's story

Living with a low grade glioma…life will inevitably change, but sometimes it can change for the better.

I was diagnosed with a low grade glioma in May 2001. The world had changed and all bets were off. The only change I made to my life was to make sure I could cash in on the business I had built in an obscure part of the Energy world. Luckily expertise for this business was in demand getting solvent was relatively easy.

Less easy was coming to terms with the personality changes that the tumour was causing. I had been transferred to Dr Rees at the National Neurological Hospital in London who was running a research project, and I became his patient. No treatment was suggested as surgery was not possible, just a wait and watch approach and I attended six monthly intervals for scans.

The good news was we had assets, the bad news was both myself and my wife were suffering from the stress of the tumour. What was clear was I would not continue working in The City, with hindsight was lucky. I let my wife choose where we should live. Whilst she was deciding, a good friend let me use his chalet in Chamonix and whilst I was there, I did none of my hobbies such as skiing or climbing, but took my time and slowly recovered from the stress. After much discussion, my wife Jacqui visited a friend in Tarland, Aberdeenshire for a wet week’s holiday and decided this was a place we would both be happy. We rented a house to start with and after six months found a house, which we bought. By now, I had pulled through my depression and was climbing and walking in the Highlands. Jacqui on the other hand, after holding us together for so long, became depressed. Her business partner decided to pull out of the yoga holiday company they started together and it was too difficult and risky to continue with it on her own. She had counselling and decided to retrain as a massage therapist. Once qualified, she started looking for clients and was immediately successful.

I chose to focus on my true passion and looked to train as a mountain guide. Although I was not successful, I was offered support from my climbing club and worked voluntarily for the next few years taking people climbing and walking. I then was offered a place to sail the North West passage. Jacqui went on a six week tour of South America with a friend. I arrived back before Jacqui and stumbled on a sign in a shop “puppies for sale”. I wandered in and bought two Labradors. I thought Jacqui would be shocked but on the day her flight landed, her mum passed away so the dogs were a source of energy and joy, a reminder that life continues during this sad time.

I accept I had always had a lucky and good life. No major mountaineering accidents, I had stumbled into the London superstar climbing scene, and made friends who took me on trips despite having no track record of climbing seriously hard grades. At the same time I met a gorgeous lady who eventually agreed to marry me. Now settled in Scotland, we have turned the difficulty of living with a brain tumour into a significant quality of life improvement. I had found cliffs bypassed by the locals, and started to become an exploratory climber in summer and winter, an opportunity I never thought I would have. I got introduced to a climber in Chamonix, who supported me in doing first ascents in the Alps and Norway.

At home, I built a vegetable plot and started to make bread. We bought a chainsaw and a wood burning stove and took to providing heating for ourselves. A friend bought a small wood and allowed us to share ownership: a smart successful man working in the oil industry, he had money but little time and had never held a chainsaw! Having grown up chain sawing, I was happy to provide the labour. A local friend was training to be a life coach and I became a case study for her, she introduced me to CLAN, a local cancer charity and I helped out in their shop in Ballater, the only man amongst several women I was happy! I also ran 10k races at The Highland Games to raise money for them; I was excited by the run, but missed my target time of less than an hour by 40 seconds! I noticed the winner of the race was from the Deeside Running Club so I joined and started to run with them once a week. They were very supportive to me; one of their members, who I now know was a sub 2 hrs 30 min marathon runner, jogged around with me and encouraged me to run with them. At the next Highlands games, I managed 56 minutes for the 10K run and have now done races up to marathon length fell runs. More surprisingly, I am now the club’s treasurer and was very pleased to be supported by them to run seven legs in their south to north run of Scotland.

I am now under the care of a Neurosurgeon in Aberdeen and have just completed a course of chemotherapy. Fatigue is now the issue and work and play are on hold of the present moment. Slow gentle walks are happening every day and slowly I am recovering. I hope my story shows that having a low grade glioma doesn’t mean an end your life. Inevitably there will be changes but just possibly, some of these changes are for the better.