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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

Being kind to yourself. My experience of a brain tumour and mental health.

by Neil MacVicar

Patient and supporter Neil was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma in 2016, aged 25. Being so young, he had to find ways to deal with his diagnosis and be kind to himself. 

On this Mental Health Awareness Week, he writes about his experience and journey to acceptance.

Read Neil's full story

My name is Neil and I grew up in Inverness, Scotland. I was a bit of a naughty kid, got myself expelled from school and didn’t get any exam results. When I was 19, I decided to go to Australia for a working holiday. Completely loved it and I felt I really grew up. Aged 21, I moved to London and got a job as a bartender. After a few years I worked my way up to running a bar and life seemed to be going really well. Then in November 2016, when I was 25, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour (medulloblastoma).

After spending my life thinking I was pretty much invincible, and that these things happen to other people, it took a long time for me to understand what had happened. After my successful surgery and treatment, I felt that “I should be happy to be alive”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t and it was the beginning of my first experience of being mentally unwell.

I have always been quite an emotional and social person so after a few especially bad weeks I realised I needed to seek help. I had some excellent counselling from Maggie’s, and then was referred by my GP for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

This was another moment I felt my life changed. The techniques taught to me by my brilliant therapist helped me understand my depression/anxiety and try to move forwards. Being kind to myself, which I believe should be heavily taught in school, provided me with a kinder inner voice when questioning myself.

Neil skiing

When I was having a bad day and walking a bit funny I used to think “shut up Neil”, “stop being such an idiot”, “just get on with it” and so on. Now I speak to myself like you would to your best mate and it has really helped in my recovery.

I still have some bad days but I know that it’s OK not to be OK and often a chat with someone about how I’m feeling can change my perspective. I don’t beat myself up for having a duvet day, but acknowledge the next day will most probably be better. My confidence has increased dramatically and I feel comfortable in my own skin. I would really encourage anyone going through treatment, living with a brain tumour or in remission to access support for their mental health as it really changed my life for the better. I would also implore the UK government to change the way that they treat unwell people in this country. Health assessments from the Department for Work and Pensions and restricted access to mental health support are two areas I feel they could do a lot more.

At the end of the day, I think that you need to consider yourself as one of the main contributors in your treatment/recovery/acceptance. Be kind to yourself and things will get better!

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