In Hope Stories
Just 1% of the national research spend has been allocated to this devastating disease
Hospital doctor Stu Farrimond from Trowbridge had to give up his career in medicine after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. The diagnosis came about by chance after he was being tested for a hormone imbalance in 2008. He underwent surgery but in 2019 the tumour returned and he was diagnosed with a grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma. A third operation was followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Over the last 15 years, Stu, now 41, has retrained as a teacher and has made a career as a science author working across various TV channels and working for the International Brain Tumour Alliance (IBTA).
Stuart tells his story…
I feel lucky that my tumour was found before it grew to a point where it impacted my day-to-day life. In fact, it was found completely incidentally in 2008, I was 25 and had been working as a doctor for three years.
I’d been having problems with my hormones and several were low on a blood test while I was working at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. This was something that could have been caused by issues with my pituitary gland. At the time I could still do the things I loved, like riding my bike around country lanes where I lived.
During the investigation for my hormone imbalance, I had a scan of my brain which detected a mass growing on my right frontal lobe and which I was later told was a grade 2 astrocytoma.
Although I was working as a medical practitioner at the time, there was still so much I didn’t understand about what having a brain tumour meant. When I saw the neurologist, she assumed I knew what a glioma was although I was struggling to remember what I had learnt years ago at medical school!
An operation in the same year to remove the tumour, left me with epilepsy and chronic fatigue.
The lack of energy was debilitating. I had a seizure on my cycle into work as I tried to get back to some kind of normal life. Further surgery a year later meant I had to make the difficult decision to leave my career in medicine. I felt a mixture of emotions. Any decision was taken away from me and almost dictated by the tumour. After training years to be a doctor for it to then be stripped from you, I lost part of my identity.
Over the next three years I enjoyed the highs and lows of embarking on a new career in teaching further education until 2012 when I had the opportunity to work for myself. Whilst teaching I’d enjoyed putting together science-related blog posts – around the time that blogging was fairly new and exciting. I enjoyed busting people’s negative opinions on the subject and I fell in love with it. I joined The International Brain Tumour Alliance (IBTA), putting together e-news communicating information, including research relating to the disease.
My writing has taken me to work with the BBC where I made my debut TV appearance on a one-off show with Nigel Slater called ‘The Great British Biscuit’, in which I appeared talking about the science of biscuit dunking. Over the last eight or so years I have made lots of radio and TV appearances as the regular food science expert on BBC2’s ‘Inside The Factory’, which looks at how things are produced.
This all propelled me into a world of writing and I’m currently working on a fifth book which is looking at the science of flavour.
“Had I not been diagnosed with a brain tumour, none of this would have happened.”
My six-monthly scans showed that the tumour had re-grown, this time more aggressive and classified as a grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma. I had surgery for a third time in 2019, after which I suffered from left-sided weakness and neglect. This meant I wouldn’t notice what was happening on my left side, and I had to relearn how to use this side of my body.
This time I had radiotherapy followed by six months of chemo. My neuro-oncology specialist nurse encouraged me to keep moving my body to help me cope with the symptoms and so I did the best way I knew how: cycling. I got myself a smart trainer so I could cycle virtually indoors. Morning and evening I was on the bike, not matter how terrible I felt, I pushed through.
I attempted to keep this up after finishing my treatment, trying to get outside on my own but my balance and ability to judge distances was affected. I had a few accidents, one time fracturing my jaw, orbit of the eye, and breaking my two front teeth. Since then, my friend Mike suggested I take up tandem cycling and I’ve fallen in love with it. He’s up front and I am pedalling away at the back, feeding us both snacks whilst enjoying the freedom of seeing the world in a safer way than if I was to go alone.
As a disease, brain tumours are something that, from a research side of things, is still hugely underfunded. Lots has been promised but only a fraction of funding has been put to find better treatment and a cure for the disease. The fact that a brain tumour has the potential to impact every single faculty, vision, personality, speech and movement is massive and life changing. It affects so many people and we must do more to bring brain tumour research in line with the advances in other cancers.
Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. 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.
Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.
Together we will find a cure