Ben Wilson, 34, from Ackworth in West Yorkshire had been having severe headaches and regular dizziness spells since the beginning of the year in 2020. However, his busy lifestyle and hectic work commitments as an area manager for a brewery meant he either ignored his symptoms or put them down to too much coffee and not enough sleep.
When he was put on furlough, Ben began to take more notice of the symptoms. His partner works on the stroke ward at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and she urged him to seek medical advice.
Ben said: “I planned to use the time when I was furloughed to focus on looking after myself and resting more often in the hope of feeling better. But the symptoms actually became more pronounced when I had less to keep me busy.
“On one occasion, I was trying to do DIY and weeding the garden when the dizziness became too much to ignore.”
Ben contacted his GP in the middle of the first lockdown and, after both a phone and face-to-face appointment, he was sent to A&E at Pinderfields with a referral for a CT scan. This scan found a large tumour on Ben’s brain and he was later diagnosed with a low-grade Pilocytic Astrocytoma. This type of tumour is relatively rare in adults and is most commonly found in children.
Ben stayed in hospital to have a series of CT and MRI scans and he was soon sent for urgent surgery at Leeds General Infirmary. He had eight hours of surgery to remove the tumour just one week after seeing his GP.
After the operation, Ben spent six days in hospital, including a precautionary 24 hours in intensive care immediately after the operation. The surgery successfully removed all of the tumour so no further treatment was required. He will now have regular scans to monitor his condition. Two years on and Ben is doing well with no symptoms as he awaits his upcoming annual scan.
He says that it was a difficult time to be in hospital during the early stages of the pandemic but he is glad he finally got a medical opinion on the symptoms which he had been having.
Ben said: “I wasn’t allowed any visitors while I was in hospital. In the first few days, I didn’t really have time to think about not having visitors as so much was happening and my mind was elsewhere. Once the dust had settled, it would have been nice to have visitors but I did get to know other patients and the staff better than I otherwise would have as everyone was in the same boat.
“Obviously, there were a lot of WhatsApp Video and Zoom calls happening between me and my family and friends which helped. The Thursday night claps for the NHS were still happening which was also nice to see and hear.”
During his recovery, Ben did have some problems with co-ordination on his left hand side as well as ongoing periods of dizziness which have now improved over time. Ben said: “I had never had idea or inclination that I could have a brain tumour. The consultant said that it was a slow-growing type of tumour so I could have had it for more than 10 years and only had symptoms when it got to a certain size.
“As a previously active and independent person, I did struggle taking it easy during my recovery and I also regularly experienced fatigue when I had tried to do too much.”
Ben returned to work three months after his diagnosis and once the pubs had reopened so his furlough ended. His phased return continued until lockdown came into effect again. As Ben’s job involves a lot of driving, the most difficult adjustment was relying on public transport as he had to give up his licence for six months.
Ben said: “Having been fortunate enough to make a nearly full recovery, it’s difficult to establish what has had more of an impact on my life – the diagnosis or the pandemic. Even without the diagnosis, life would be far from normal this year. It’s also not lost on me how lucky I have been.
“I wasn’t living with my diagnosis for very long before surgery, so I didn’t have months or years to come to terms with it or to worry about it. Coming to terms with having a brain tumour actually happened after my surgery. My recovery gave me something much bigger to focus on during lockdown other than DIY and gardening.
“Even under the difficult circumstances brought about by the pandemic, the care I was given from the NHS from start to finish was absolutely amazing. In fact, I think I was actually very lucky with the timescale of treatment I received as it all happened within a fortnight. I hope that can offer optimism to anyone who receives a similar diagnosis.
“In all honesty, I may not have even phoned the doctor if lockdown hadn’t happened – my symptoms were quite general, and I’d have probably put it off for longer if I had been working as normal and keeping busy with the regular routine of life. Anyone concerned should make that initial call to their GP and take their advice.”