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

How my brain tumour affected my mental health

by Ricky Carroll

Following surgery to remove a brain tumour in 2018, Ricky Carroll recovered well physically, but was left dealing with the impact of his treatment on his mental health. Hoping to raise awareness of the psychological impact of a brain tumour diagnosis, Ricky shares a raw and poignant insight into his experience and his road to recovery:

I can remember it like it was yesterday, 4th December 2018. I was lying on a hospital bed in a hallway with a dear friend by my side. As the doctor approached, I could sense the somewhat downcast look in his eyes. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “We've found a large brain tumour”. The rest of the conversation is blurry at best. It felt like I was drowning and could only hear certain words.

That day changed the rest of my life - and changed me as a person. I had one month in between the diagnosis and the surgery. Looking back, I can see I started to withdraw within a few days of the diagnosis. In general, my mental health began to suffer.

Following the surgery, every time I got a headache, I thought the tumour was back. I withdrew socially. I felt exhausted all the time. I experienced survivor's guilt and for months dealt with suicidal ideation, unsuccessfully attempting to take my life on one specific occasion.

I understand it’s difficult for doctors to advise regarding possible mental health implications as everyone heals differently. There are numerous studies online that talk about patients suffering from mental health problems following a brain tumour diagnosis. These studies are widely available so why wasn't I – and so many others – warned about potential mental health problems? The level of potential mental health problems a patient may suffer is impossible for any hospital to predict. However, a clear warning for patients of potential mental health problems is needed – and will undoubtedly save lives.

During my mental health woes, I often found myself in tears at home. I'm not sure if this was a relief, part of recovery or me having a breakdown. I had received no advice, so I didn't know how to act or what support was available. After months of struggling, I went to the hospital and they prescribed me Escitalopram – a type of antidepressant. Prescription drugs helped me to a point. They helped level me out and calm me down. Despite being grateful for finally feeling calm, I was acutely aware that I hadn't dealt with anything head on; I was relying on the Escitalopram, which I didn't want to rely on in the long term.

Despite the drugs having a positive impact, there were also negative side effects. They were making me into an emotionless robot. By this point, I just wanted my old life back. After weaning myself off the medication, I decided I wanted to improve my situation.

Following a change of job – which helped me immensely – I also found an appreciation for life. I was suddenly overwhelmed by gratitude. I was grateful I had survived; I felt fortunate. I also felt regret that I had wasted months feeling this way.

Once I had decided I wanted to feel better, I took positive steps. In addition to changing my job, I watched plenty of motivational videos that I had considered pretentious before. I realised this was an opportunity for me to press reset and completely change my life.

I travelled to Thailand and Cambodia for a solo trip just as COVID-19 appeared. It was the trip of a lifetime. Even though I was feeling better, I still had yet to master the feeling of loving myself since the surgery. I couldn't be on my own; I craved company following the surgery. The trip to Asia enabled me to be comfortable with my own company and finally process what had happened. Travelling around Asia taught me how beautiful the world is and how grateful I am to still be a part of it.

My recovery journey has continued through COVID-19, where I have explored my passion for writing and had some published articles, which has been a phenomenal experience.

The experience of surviving a brain tumour has taught me that we get one opportunity in life. I am determined to seize that opportunity and leave a positive legacy for the next generation.

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