Natalie is 47 and from Ramsgate in Kent. She was diagnosed with a glioblastoma at the start of lockdown in 2020. Initially, she visited her GP who told her she was probably suffering from migraines. Her headaches got so bad that she visited her local A&E, who also told her it was migraines.
But just as lockdown was getting underway in April 2020, Natalie suffered a frightening episode at home.
She explains: “I had a severe headache for about three days, and then it felt as if I’d had a stroke. I couldn’t talk, and my mouth drooped. I was taken to hospital, scanned, and diagnosed with a glioblastoma. Because this all happened during lockdown, I was on my own when I heard the news.”
Natalie had surgery at King’s College Hospital in London where 70% of her tumour was removed. Then, six weeks later, she started a six-week programme of radiotherapy followed by a six-month course of chemotherapy.
Natalie’s glioblastoma was stable for three years, but in June this year, there were signs of growth again – her tumour had recurred. In August, Natalie had surgery to remove it. She was awake for some of the procedure and a speech therapist supported her during surgery to make sure healthy brain tissue wasn’t damaged.
Natalie’s diagnosis and recent recurrence has had a major impact on her life: “My life has changed dramatically, as I can no longer drive, work, or travel abroad. I’m not able to work, due to the tumour being in the cognitive area. I lose concentration easily and get very tired.
“Since my glioblastoma diagnosis, I find it hard to do all the things I used to do – like going to places that were normal before my illness, like the cinema, the pub or the gym. I find some social situations hard. I’ve lost my independence, and now have to accept help from other people.”
Having been someone who used to live life at a fast pace, she has taught herself to slow down: “I’ve had to teach myself to be mindful of my body, how to cope with stress – to accept the changes in my life and make them positive not negative. I had to learn to slow down, to put the past in the past and seize the day – Carpe Diem. My Mum and I have this tattooed on our wrists. The motto is important to me. I live in the moment.
“There have been lots of ups and downs, but I’ve always tried to keep positive and strong. It’s important that I feel strong – you can still be strong, even with cancer. I am mindful of my diet, I do yoga, meditation and appreciate family and friends’ support. I’ve learnt to love myself and my body, and I find peace in that. My glioblastoma diagnosis has made me stronger; I look at things differently now.”
“Before my diagnosis I came out as gay and recently got married. I’m thankful every day for meeting my wife, who accepted me with my illness; and for all the support, laughter, and love my family and friends show me.
Natalie’s recent surgery went well, and she is exploring different clinical trials to help with her current treatment plan.
The need for research
Without research, these clinical trials would not be possible. Natalie said: “Research into brain tumours is not as well funded as other cancers. It needs a higher profile. There needs to be more treatment options for people like me because right now there is no cure, so I am making the most of every day.”
Some of our glioblastoma research
In newly funded research, Dr Spencer Watson will explore how and why glioblastoma tumours recur after initial treatment. He is researching the scar tissue that forms after treatment and how this appears to protect glioblastoma cells, leading the recurrence.