It is said that cancer survivors never forget the moment they are told they have cancer. For me, I vividly remember staring at a computer screen showing an MRI image of my brain. I was taking a break from ward work in the ‘doctor’s mess’ and had been looking forward to getting my very own brain scan to print out and keep; The plan was to stick it on the fridge door at home and entitle it “My super-clever brain, Aged 25”! This scan, however was most definitely not one to treasure.
Why have a brain scan?
A few weeks before, I had been to see my GP about a variety of general problems; tiredness, not sleeping well, not eating properly… At the time I was an uber-keen fitness addict and cycled 30+ miles a day. My GP kindly ordered some blood tests ‘just to be sure’ but correctly told me that I was probably over-doing the training and needed to ease back a bit. The blood results came back and confirmed her suspicions: I was training and working too hard. The results showed that several of my hormones (e.g. thyroid) were too low.
‘Just to be sure’
Hormone problems can be caused by damage to a gland in the brain. A brain scan was arranged ‘just to be sure’ that the tiny little pituitary gland in my head was unharmed. The brain scan showed what my doctor suspected: the pituitary gland was fine and the hormone imbalances were because of my excessive training regime. But there was something else was on my brain scan that didn’t look quite right. I had worked in hospital long enough to know that a white ‘cotton-wool’ blob sitting on my right cerebral cortex wasn’t normal.
The day after my scan I was called in to see a neurology consultant, an old boss of mine, to give me the news:
“You have what looks like a glioma”
The consultant didn’t elaborate but gave her sympathies. She assumed I could remember from medical school what a glioma was. I could only remember the basic details: a malignant form of brain cancer, that cannot be cured.
I went on to have two operations over the next 18 months to remove most of the tumour. Thankfully, the tumour is a slow growing one: on average people like me live 12 years. Mine was found by accident, and because I remain in good health fit, I’m hoping for more!
Living with uncertainty
After my first operation I developed epilepsy and had to leave medicine. Life changed dramatically: but not all for the worse! At 25 years of age and working nearly every waking hour in a hospital, I rarely spent time with my wife. I worked in a profession that paid well but sapped from you every ounce of physical and emotional energy. I now work in a profession (teaching) that I love! I was inspired by brilliant and charismatic teachers when I was at school and now I try to do the same for others! Getting diagnosed with Epilepsy meant I had to stop driving, but I have been able to raise money for charity through cycling! The generosity and genuine empathy that people (often strangers) showed has gone a long way to restore my faith in humanity. The whole world isn’t self-centred, unlike what much of the media tells you!
Living with hope
Every six months I have a scan to see if the tumour has grown back. This will continue for the rest of my life. Both my wife and I pray that I will defy the odds and that the tumour will never grow back again. In the meantime, we are actually enjoying life more than ever: treasuring time together, doing jobs we love and trying to have as much fun as possible!