First year Geography student, Thomas Owens, is campaigning for greater awareness of brain tumours, a condition that his girlfriend Holly has been living with throughout her teens.
“Being told you have a brain tumour at any age is soul destroying, yet being told this devastating news at just 13 years old is almost unimaginable. For my girlfriend Holly Davies-Timbrell, this was the reality; one piece of news that would change her life forever.
When Holly started suffering from agonising headaches in June 2009, a CT and MRI scan were conducted to confirm the inevitable: an inoperable Astrocytoma tumour on the hypothalamus in the centre of the brain. After a failed biopsy, Holly had to have a drain inserted, and an open craniotomy was performed to try to grade the tumour.
At the time, we were in the same year at school in Cardiff, although I didn’t really know her very well. I can remember her returning to school after several weeks wearing a bandana due to the operations resulting in having to shave parts of her hair. I look back and still see her self-conscious face, worrying if people would judge her for her illness and hair loss. It was awful and she was obviously very upset and uncomfortable, but she has coped with it so well since being diagnosed. It’s not something she really talks about, although she is dedicated to raising awareness of the cause and the lack of research.
Despite this, Holly continued with her studies and passed all her GCSEs and A-Levels. On top of this, the three monthly then six monthly scans and annual check-ups have shown that, despite a few worries, her tumour has not grown since the last big operation, although recent scans show signs of a cyst within the tumour growing, presently no action is being taken as there is a possibility the cyst will shrink itself.
Today, she has a permanent drain inserted to relieve the cerebrospinal fluid pressure and is doing very well. As much as Holly tries to live a normal day-to-day life, she knows that she has to manage more carefully than other 18-19 year olds. She’s accepted that it’s just something she has to live with but she still gets headaches and gets very fatigued.
Know the signs
I need to stress the importance of beginning treatment as early as possible. The most common symptoms are caused by an increase in pressure in the skull from the growing tumour.
• sickness in early hours of the morning
• blurred vision
I don’t want to bore anyone with statistics, but despite the growing number of cases each year, not enough is being done in comparison to other cancers. Only £6 million goes towards brain cancers annually, compared to £37 million for breast cancer, making research into brain tumours one of the most underfunded cancer research programmes out there, considering only one in five people under 40 diagnosed with a brain tumour survive more than five years after being diagnosed.
There are no superstars promoting awareness or big campaigns to raise money, nor is government funding into research very forthcoming. This is why it is down to people like me to do their bit to try to raise awareness and money, so that patients and their carers can at least have some hope for the future.”