My Kilimanjaro challenge after a frightening diagnosis

Brain Tumour mum climbs Kilimanjaro

by take-a-break |
Updated on

As I faced a terrifying ordeal that threatened to take me away from my family, I penned my baby son a special letter. By Michaela Laidlaw, 34

brain tumour mum climbs Kilimanjaro

Flopping exhausted in to my bed, I was relieved to be having an early night.

‘I’m shattered,’ I told my husband Neil.

We’d spent the day recovering after seeing in the new year with friends and family.

But a few hours later, I woke suddenly with an excruciating headache.

After fetching a cool flannel for my forehead, I managed to drift off again.

The next thing I knew I was coming round in a room I’d never seen before.

My mum Pauline was there with Neil and his parents. They all looked strained and anxious.

‘You’re in hospital, sweetheart,’ Neil said gently. ‘You had three seizures in the middle of the night so I called an ambulance. You’ve been out of it for about three days.’

Through a haze of medication, I struggled to take it in.

‘They say you’ve either got meningitis or a brain tumour,’ Neil added.

I was 25 and had gone to bed fit and healthy. How could this have happened?

The next day, doctors arrived and said: ‘I’m afraid you have a brain tumour called a Oligodendroglioma.’

Neil and I looked at each other, shocked.

We’d only been married nine months, but here was the first test of our vows — in sickness and in health.

'You're in hospital, sweetheart'

Thankfully, the doctor said the tumour was benign and slow-growing. He was optimistic that it could be removed.

I had the operation a few weeks later and, when I came round, there was good news.

‘We’ve removed 95 per cent of the tumour,’ the surgeon told me. ‘The small bit left was too near the part of the brain which controls your eyesight. We’re hoping it doesn’t grow back.’

Back home, Neil and I did our best to put what had happened behind us, and our thoughts turned to starting a family.

‘I feel well and there doesn’t seem to be a reason not to,’ I said.

To our delight, I soon fell pregnant.

It was December, so I got some special gifts made for Mum and Neil’s parents.

On Christmas Day, they all unwrapped little plaques I’d had inscribed for them announcing our good news.

Mum’s read: Only the best mum gets promoted to Nanna.

And the one for Neil’s parents was similar.

It took a second for the penny to drop, but when it did, there were hugs and tears all round.

My pregnancy went well and when our beautiful baby boy, Spencer, was born, life felt joyous.

But just before Spencer turned one, I went for one of my regular brain scans and the results were devastating.

‘The tumour has grown back,’ explained the doctor.

I hadn’t had any symptoms, so it was a total shock.

‘We’ll fight this together,’ Neil said, hugging me.

I needed another operation, but the thought of leaving Spencer without a mum made it more terrifying that before.

'I'm running the marathon'

The night before, as I lay in my hospital bed, I wrote my boy a letter, just in case I didn’t make it.

Be kind, and don’t forget to always brush your teeth, I wrote. I love you very much, Mummy.

Thankfully, the following day, the operation was a success. Once again, they’d been able to remove almost all of the tumour.

It was such a huge relief to return home to Neil and Spencer.

Once I’d recovered, I set myself a challenge to run the London Marathon for The Brain Tumour Charity.

But just months before the race, a scan revealed my tumour was growing again.

‘This time, we’ll try radiotherapy and chemotherapy,’ the doctor said.

‘Can I delay a bit?’ I asked. ‘I’m running the marathon.’

They agreed and soon after, I travelled from my home in York, North Yorkshire, to London and completed the run in four-and-a-half hours.

Three days later, I started 30 sessions of radiotherapy, followed by six of chemotherapy.

There were times I didn’t think I’d make it through, as I suffered collapsed veins, sore skin, extreme fatigue and early menopause. That was on top of all the glances I got when my hair fell out.

But the treatment worked and for the next three years, my scans showed no new growth.

Once Spencer was old enough to understand, I explained why I was going to the hospital.

‘Mummy has some nasty bugs in her head and we want to check they’re behaving,’ I told him.

Thankfully, things are stable with my tumour at the moment, although I know this could change at any moment.

In the meantime, I’m training for my next challenge — climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m flying out to Tanzania at the end of this year and aim to raise £5000 for The Brain Tumour Charity.

I’m looking forward to it and I hope to make Spencer proud.

I want to show him that whatever life throws at you, you can stay strong and never give up.

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