Catherine, now 55, from Bolton was at work in December 2015 when she suddenly and briefly lost the ability to speak. Her cousin Suzanne, who she worked with, took her to A&E at the Royal Bolton Hospital through concerns that she may have had a stroke.
Cath said: “It had been a typical morning at work – nothing different or particularly stressful about it. Then, all of a sudden, I just couldn’t speak. It was only for a few seconds but it was enough to worry me. Even given the loss of my mum, I didn’t think it would be a brain tumour but I knew it needed to be checked out.”
Cath had CT and MRI scans as well as chest x-ray at the Royal Bolton Hospital and she contacted her sister Liz and Liz’s husband Mike to let them know what had happened. Not wanting to worry him, Cath only contacted her dad Alan when she was told she would have to stay in hospital overnight. She had lost her mum Joan to a Glioblastoma brain tumour just after Christmas in 2013. Her mum had a seizure whilst on a cruise holiday from Sydney to Southampton via China and Japan on the day before Mother’s Day that year.
Joan went to the medical centre on the ship before going a hospital in China for assessments. They then travelled by private ambulance to Beijing where they stayed in a hotel for five days visiting a hospital daily before she was allowed to fly home. The seizure had damaged her vision so, when her family met her at the airport, she was in a wheelchair, wearing an eye patch and clearly distressed following her ordeal.
A few weeks later in June, Joan had a fall and she was taken to the Royal Bolton Hospital as she had damaged her back. An MRI scan revealed the mass on her brain, which would later be diagnosed as a Grade 4 Glioblastoma.
Surgery wasn’t an option due to the location of the tumour. Joan had a course of radiotherapy – but it wasn’t enough to stop one of the most aggressive types of brain tumour from growing. After months of being cared for at home, and the day after their Golden Wedding anniversary, Cath’s mum passed away at home with her family around her.
“After she had been diagnosed, Mum had two ambitions – to make that milestone wedding anniversary and also to be there for the birth of her niece’s baby. She was so pleased to be able to spend that day with my dad but, sadly, the baby arrived after her funeral.”
Cath had no way of knowing that she would be at the same hospital where her mum had been treated just a few months later having been diagnosed with a brain tumour herself.
After leaving the hospital in Bolton, Cath went home to stay with her dad for a couple of days. But she kept having short periods of time when she wasn’t able to speak – she now knows that she was having a small seizure each time that occurred. Following the advice they had been given, they went back to A&E only to find out that the medical team had been trying to contact her. A bed had been reserved for her at Salford Royal Hospital to urgently remove a mass which the MRI had found on Cath’s brain.
The operation was delayed a few times due to emergency procedures being carried out on other patients. Cath spent that time in the hospital going between periods of not being able to eat ahead of the surgery to having the staff provide her with sandwiches from a vending machine as the kitchens were closed. During this time, Cath also had a series of MRI scans to find out more about the tumour on her left front temporal lobe, which is the area of the brain that controls speech.
Cath had eight hours of surgery four days after being admitted to hospital which successfully removed around 90% of the satsuma-sized tumour. Cath spent two nights in a recovery ward before she was moved to a general ward where she found it difficult to sleep due to noise and disturbances from other patients. The tumour was confirmed to be a Grade 3 anaplastic oligodendroglioma so Cath also needed further treatment.
Cath said: “The days leading up to the surgery were difficult – I was nil by mouth and had to be put on a drip until the day of the surgery. But, afterwards, my speech was right back to normal and it’s stayed that way. I also haven’t had any more seizures. I was told that the tumour may start to grow again but the surgical team would deal with that if and when it happened.
“I came home just a few days before Christmas, I had my stitches out on Christmas Eve and then I had my first shower and properly washed my hair on Christmas Day which was marvellous. We spent Christmas Day at my sister’s house – we would normally stay over but, this time, I went back to my dad’s house. I was tired and I needed a rest during the day. But, aside from that, it was like it had never happened.”
As the New Year got underway, Cath had 33 sessions of radiotherapy and took oral chemotherapy tablets at home every day for 42 days. She credits the love and support of her family and friends for helping her through it all.
Her dad had booked a cruise holiday down the Mekong River which he was going to cancel so he could stay with Cath – but she insisted he went on the trip with his friends. Cath’s siblings and their partners came to stay with her or to take her for treatment at The Christie Unit at Salford Royal Hospital as well as the various other hospital appointments she had during that time.
She said: “Everybody was so shocked when this happened to me. But, I am so lucky to have such amazing people around me who have been there every step of the way. So many of my friends and family visited me when I was in hospital after my surgery and that meant the world to me. I don’t think I would have got though it all without them yet – five and a half years later – here I am.”
Cath was unable to drive until two-and-a-half years after her treatment ended. She was given a free train and bus pass so she could travel easily, especially when she returned to her job as a legal secretary three months after her operation.
She struggled being off work for so long as the boredom set in and she longed for her former routine. She bought a smart TV so she had more choice of what to watch whilst she was recovering before she fully returned to her role with a law firm.
It will be six years in December since Cath’s operation and five years since her treatment ended. Now, she has annual scans to monitor her condition which is currently stable and she is optimistic about both her past and future.
Cath said: “I have felt incredibly positive about it all – I have been lucky. The only real side-effect is that some of the hair which I lost during treatment hasn’t grown back. However I got a voucher for a wig from the Macmillan Cancer Support team at the Christie and it looked pretty good. I have also had the same hairdresser since I was 17-years-old so he knew how to style it properly and effectively for me."
“The support I have had means everything to me. It was vital to me to have people to count on and people have been so good to me. Now, I just try my best to take one step at a time. First, it was a couple of weeks, then a couple of months and then longer when I knew things were going well for me. Now, I don’t usually think about it.”
The Brain Tumour Charity was in its relative infancy when Cath was being treated but she has praised the charity’s website including its section on what questions to ask following a diagnosis. She says that it would have made things much easier for her to navigate at the time for her.
Cath added: “The best piece of advice I could give to anyone is to just wake up and appreciate it when you have another day ahead of you. Yes, brain tumours are awful and losing my mum to one was and still is very painful to even think about. But it just proves that we just don’t know when our time will be up so we should make the most of right now whenever we can.”