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Sarah’s Christmas story

A mum of two is looking forward to a festive season with her young family after last Christmas was marred by the discovery of a brain tumour.

Sarah Cardwell from Leeds, was having blurred vision last year so she went to her optician for a checkup. However, she was immediately referred to the Eye Casualty at St James Hospital in Leeds when Sarah’s vision couldn’t be corrected with any of the lenses which the optician tried.

Following various eye tests and an MRI scan, a craniopharangioma was found, which is a rare tumour on the pituitary gland. Sarah was booked in to have emergency surgery for it to be removed just a few days before last Christmas.

“I was in shock and I felt sick to my stomach when the doctor told me about my diagnosis. Had I known that blurred vision could be symptomatic of a brain tumour, especially considering the bad headaches I’d been having, I would have got it checked sooner.

“I had no time to mentally or physically prepare for the surgery I now so urgently needed. I felt so guilty springing the news on my family – we were all upset but they were trying to be brave for me too.”

Sarah and her husband Tony had to tell their children Lucy and Ellie – who were aged four and seven years old at the time – that she was going into hospital at the time of year when she would otherwise have been at home preparing for a visit from Santa.

“My husband told our children that Doctor Brown Bear from Peppa Pig was going to look after me. I don’t think they really understood what was happening so they didn’t worry, thankfully.

“But, I put them to bed that night, walked out of their room and burst into tears. Saying goodbye to them before leaving to have complex surgery was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and I didn’t sleep at all that night.

“It was exactly a week before Christmas when we drove to the hospital for my surgery as we passed the festive lights which were everywhere. It all felt very surreal.”

The surgery was a success and managed to remove most of Sarah’s tumour. She was back home just three days before Christmas Day. Sarah had no choice but to spend much of the season away from the festivities as she recovered in bed.

I was so pleased to be home but it was frustrating that I didn’t feel well enough to be out of bed. I managed to go downstairs and eat a small amount of Christmas dinner and watch my daughters open their presents.

“My family brought Christmas to me instead of spending the day at my mum and dad’s house which had originally been the plan.

“I felt pretty useless not being able to do much but my family were fantastic. I really felt like I’d let my children down by leaving them in the run up to Christmas. I missed their school nativities and carol concert but luckily my parents were brilliant and stepped in for me – they assured me that my children were ok.

“I spent a lot of time just doing my best to adjust to my new normal – although I knew that nothing would ever be the same again.”

It was during this time that Sarah found comfort in our Facebook closed support groups.

“I found the groups a great way of finding other people who know exactly what you are going through – it helps you to feel like you’re not alone and that, in many ways, that you’re a lot more fortunate than some.”

In the months which followed, Sarah had regular MRI scans to monitor her condition and she was also taking steroid medication due to damage to her pituitary gland. However, Sarah began to have problems with the vision in her right eye again and MRI results showed that the tumour had grown and that she needed more surgery.

Four months on and Sarah has regular MRI scans to monitor her condition but there has been no signs of regrowth. She is now preparing for a happy festive season with her young family and a more positive year ahead in 2020.

“I’m coming to terms with what I have been through and I am trying my best to successfully work through it all. It’s coming up to a year since my first operation and, in some ways, the time has gone so quickly and in others it feels like it was all a lifetime ago.”

Thank you Sarah for sharing your story and helping us to drive change for everyone affected.