A daughter who lost her mum to an aggressive brain tumour has climbed the toughest route of Mount Snowdon to help fund world-class research to find a cure for the disease which took away her “best friend”.
Natalie Power, 36, from Oldham, and her partner Phil have recently returned home from the epic climb which saw them skirt the knife edge of Crib Goch along the highest peak in Wales. The route they took is notorious for being one of the most difficult mountaineering paths in the UK to reach the top of the 3,650 ft peak.
Natalie and Phil took on the challenge to support The Brain Tumour Charity after Natalie lost her mum Karen to a glioblastoma brain tumour in March 2019. This is the most common high-grade primary brain tumour in adults and one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. The average survival time is around 12-18 months.
Natalie said: “As we set out for the challenge, the sheer size and beauty of what stood in front of us took our breath away. We knew this climb would be difficult to say the least and it didn’t disappoint. At some points, it felt like we were climbing vertically and we then scrambled over the tops to reach some beautiful heights.
“We had to be ever so careful not to put a foot wrong but we were always mindful of the reason we had chosen this route which spurred us on – and I believe that my Mam kept us safe the whole way too.”
Karen first experienced symptoms in August 2017, when she suddenly had problems with her mobility whilst working on a shop floor at a supermarket. She was taken to A&E at Oldham Hospital where she was diagnosed with a suspected stroke. Due to an admin error, it was a few months before she was accurately diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour which came with a short prognosis of just 14 months.
Due to the location of the tumour, surgery wasn’t possible due to the risk of causing further damage. Karen instead had courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As time went on, Karen’s mobility decreased even further, especially following a biopsy to confirm the tumour type, and she needed a wheelchair to get around. In the early stages, the tumour was confirmed to be a grade 3 astrocytoma (known as anaplastic astrocytoma) but that soon developed into a grade 4 astrocytoma (known as a glioblastoma).
This is Natalie’s motivation to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity, which is the largest dedicated funder of research into brain tumours globally, to help stop other families experiencing the same loss as she has without viable options for treatment.
Natalie said: “For months, we saw so many medical professionals who could only draw a blank when we asked what treatment options there were for my Mam. Every conversation we had about possibilities, from clinical trials to proton beam therapy, were shot down. There’s a real desperate need for pioneering research – we can’t have a lack of understanding about the brain any more. People like us who find themselves in that situation need to have hope that something could be done or that at least we can try.”
From the point of diagnosis, Karen was in and out of hospital and required regular care at home from family members, including Natalie, to tend to her everyday needs. In the middle of one night in March 2019, Mick couldn’t wake Karen up to take her daily medication. So, as she drifted out of consciousness, Karen was taken to A&E where she was also diagnosed with Sepsis. Her body was too weak to fight off the infection or handle any treatment for it so she sadly now needed palliative care for the continuing impact of the brain tumour.
For the next 13 days, Natalie and her family barely left Karen’s hospital bedside whilst she largely slept. They swapped stories about her life, played her favourite music including Luther Vandross and they each got little pink teddies to hold. Natalie sprayed one with the perfume she usually wore in the hope that her mum would recognise the smell when she held it. Natalie and Philalso were able to spend five nights sleeping at the hospital after staff cleared an unused room nearby for them to occupy.
Sadly, Karen. aged 60, passed away peacefully on 21 March 2019 leaving behind Natalie and her partner Phil, her step-dad Mick, Natalie’s brother Mark, his partner Cathy and their daughter Esme who is now three-years-old.
Natalie said: “We wanted there to be as much happiness in that room as possible in the last few days of Mam’s life. We knew that she wouldn’t wake up though so it was incredibly painful to watch someone we all love so much slowly lose the life within her. Mam was absolutely my best friend – we honestly couldn’t have been closer. We were partners in crime and we did so much together. Really, she was more than just a mam to me, she was my everything.
“When Mam passed away, I knew that I had to do something to help other people who have been through this utter heartbreak. That’s when I found out about The Brain Tumour Charity – they had never been mentioned to us before by any of the medical team even when the support they offer could really have helped us.
“My partner and I have always been walkers but we wanted to take on something a little bigger than a usual ramble. Taking on the trickiest route for Mount Snowdon was the ideal choice. It is a good training exercise for us as our ultimate goal is to climb Mount Everest. I know that, if there is a heaven, that’s where my mam is. So being on the top of the highest mountain is the closest that I can get to where she may be now.
“We did it all in memory of my dearly loved and very missed mam, Karen, as well as for a worthy cause and a well deserving charity. I just hope that we did my Lami proud.”
You can donate to Natalie’s fundraising here.