In Hope Stories
Just 1% of the national research spend has been allocated to this devastating disease
When young mum Melissa Ross started to experience pain in her legs, she thought it was caused by being on her feet all day. However, tests revealed she had been living with a brain tumour and this was the cause of her pain. Due to its location she would not be able to have surgery and would need to undergo an intensive cause of radiotherapy to control it. Despite not knowing what her future holds Melissa is determined to enjoy her life with partner Lee and their five-year-old daughter Millie.
“Just two days before my diagnosis my nan died suddenly from a heart attack. Dealing with this grief and then the news of the tumour was so much to take on board. I was only 24 and just trying to just live my life and take care of my family, I just couldn’t take everything in.”
Here is Melissa’s story…
I met my partner Lee, just over seven years ago, when we worked together at a holiday park in East Sussex. I think I knew back then that he was the one for me and in 2011 I moved, from my family home in Kent, to Essex to be with him. This was a big step for me as I was leaving all my family and friends behind to start a new life. In September 2012 our daughter Millie was born and it really felt like we had become a proper family. She was such a happy, healthy and smiley baby, and Lee and I were looking forward to starting a life together.
We moved to Great Yarmouth where Lee’s family are from in June 2013. They were so welcoming and really tried to help me settle into the area and help with Millie. With this extra support I was able to get a job in a local restaurant as a waitress, and although I didn’t have many friends there, my job gave me the opportunity to talk to people and enjoy having some independence.
It was late 2013 when my world changed. I had started to experience a dull continuous pain in my knees and lower legs, which the doctor thought maybe due to being on my feet all day at work and running around after Millie. However, over time the pain got worse and it became difficult for me to lift my legs and walk more than a 100 yards. The pain was unbearable and often I would have to sit down, leaning on the buggy for support. My friend Hayley had been diagnosed with arthritis in her 20s, so said I may have the same, but x-rays didn’t show anything and the pain didn’t subside.
The doctors had no idea what was wrong and by the end of the year I was not only struggling to walk, but suffering with pain in my left arm and neck. I had thought at one point that maybe because I was a little overweight and that was the cause, I joined Slimming World and lost nearly two stone, but it didn’t make a difference to the symptoms I was experiencing.
It was a really difficult time as I was just trying to be a good mum and go to work. I ended up taking a taxi some days to work for what would usually be a 10 minute walk. Lee and his family we really kind and helped with Millie when they could, however the not knowing what was the cause of the pain was proving difficult to just get on with. Mum came to visit, she took one look at me and knew I couldn’t go on like this.
I went back to the doctors and demanded a second opinion, after over two years of nagging I was finally referred to a consultant at the hospital, which lead to further tests, but it was several months before I had a full MRI scan.
A week late, Lee was away with work and I got a call telling me that they had found something abnormal on a scan and I was asked to come in to discuss the results. Lee’s mum Denise, and dad Tom insisted they come with me as they didn’t want me going to the hospital on my own. Looking back, I’m really glad they did.
The consultant sat us down and explained that they thought it could be one of a few things, MS, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma or more likely a brain tumour, but they wanted to refer me to a specialist.
I just froze, Denise and Tom where holding my hands, but I don’t think I could process fully what I was being told. Then all I could think about was telling Lee but as he was driving home that night I didn’t want to worry him. When Lee got home I was too distraught to tell him. I think seeing him and Millie just brought the news home that I wasn’t just going to have some pills and it would all be OK. At this point I had started to use a wheelchair to move around more easily as my legs weren’t strong enough.
Further results showed it was classified as a low-grade glioma tumour located around my brain stem and spinal cord, so surgery would not be an option. Later blood tests revealed that some of the cells in the tumour were cancerous, so I would be referred to an oncologist at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital as the only treatment would be radiotherapy.
Just two days before my diagnosis my nan died suddenly from a heart attack. Dealing with this grief and then the news of the tumour was so much to take on board. I was only 24 and just trying to just live my life and take care of my family, I just couldn’t take everything in.
I thought back to 2010 when I had been experiencing double vision and a wandering eye. The opinions at Boots told me not to worry about it, but then it had got worse in 2013 I had to have surgery to fix my squint. I couldn’t help thinking was this connected to my diagnosis.
The six-week course of radiotherapy was hard as they insisted I have the highest blast possible. I coped fine during the treatment, it was only after that I felt the side effects and lost the hair on the bottom half of my head. It really is such a draining process. Mum came to stay and help look after me and Millie, it was lovely having her there, as it meant Lee could go to work knowing I wasn’t on my own.
At the end of the treatment I was wiped out and needed to sit down regularly as the movement in my legs hadn’t improved. Being virtually housebound and struggling to look after Millie was heart-breaking. The doctors said we just had to watch and wait and I was booked in for scans every three months to check that the tumour wasn’t growing again. My scan in January showed the cancer cells to be dead, but with the type of tumour I have means they could come back at any time, so this isn’t the end.
Sadly, I don’t think we will have more children, as I’m on a considerable amount of medication. I now have to use a walking frame, I get tired easily and can’t hold down a job, which is something I never thought I would say at the age of 26. I feel very lucky that I have Lee, his family close by and my family to support me.
I feel blessed to have Lee and my beautiful, healthy and wonderful little girl in my life and I now enjoy every moment with them as these are so precious. As a family we take each day as it comes as sadly this disease is with me for life.
Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone, at any age, at any time. What’s more, they kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer... yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
If you have been inspired by Melissa’s story, you may like to make a donation via www.braintumourresearch.org/donation/donate-now or leave a gift in your will via https://www.braintumourresearch.org/legacy
Together we will find a cure.
The views or opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of Brain Tumour Research. This content has been shared for information purposes only. Brain Tumour Research does not recommend or endorse any particular treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor or other suitably qualified medical professional. Our member charity brainstrust can provide additional information on treatment options.