In Our Hearts Stories
Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years
Judi Morgan was 60 years old when, in 2006, doctors discovered an orange-sized tumour in her brain. Her shock diagnosis came after she collapsed at an arts and crafts lesson. The grandmother, from Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, later found out her tumour was a grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM), carrying with it a devastatingly stark prognosis of just 12 to 18 months. During her short illness, Judi tragically lost her husband David due to complications from an operation for early-stage oesophagus cancer. Just 11 weeks after he died, Judi lost her own cancer battle at Willow Wood Hospice in Tameside, with her loving daughter Tania and her granddaughter Talia by her side.
Tania tells her mum’s story…
My mum and dad divorced in 1973, when I was six. Mum left a very nice and comfortable life with my dad; I went to private school and wanted for nothing, but Mum was a woman of principle and knew that separation was the right decision for both me and her. I have no siblings and Mum brought me up on her own. I have such happy childhood memories. Mum worked hard in the pathology laboratory at Tameside Hospital and paid for me to go to dance classes, which I loved. She was my hero, fulfilling the role of both mum and dad. She wasn’t just my mum; she was my best friend, always putting me first.
In 1987, just before my 21st birthday, Mum married David, a wonderful man to whom she was perfectly suited, and it was lovely to see her so happy. Mum and David had a fabulous marriage and were so supportive of me when I started my own family, giving birth to a little girl, Talia, in 1999. In 2002, my husband and I divorced, and three-year-old Talia and I went to live with Mum and David. We stayed with them for about three years before I bought our own house nearby.
“Mum had to have a hysterectomy when she was 40 and at 50, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
She underwent treatment for the breast cancer and took early retirement but recovered well and enjoyed life throughout her fifties. She did Spanish classes, flower arranging, watercolour painting and made greetings cards. She was brilliant at crafting. Talia’s school used to have an art week every year and Mum would go in and volunteer to do arts and crafts sessions with the children. Eventually, she set up her own adult evening classes, which she delivered every Monday evening. Those classes are still running today.
Mum was 60 when she found out she had a brain tumour. It was such a shock as she was a strong and healthy lady. She only measured 4’10” but we called her a ‘pocket rocket’. She walked everywhere and was very trim, the picture of good health. It was in the autumn of 2006 that we first noticed she was forgetting things, but it wasn’t until 28 October that things became really concerning, when she collapsed at one of her craft classes. That led to her going to hospital for a scan at the end of November, which revealed she had a tumour in her brain.
On 30 January 2007, she had a craniotomy at Hope Hospital, now Salford Royal, in Pendleton. It was the longest day of my life, but I was encouraged by Mum’s attitude; she was strong and although very frightened she faced it head-on. The following month, she went to see a consultant at the Christie Hospital and was told she has a grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM). He advised her not to read about it. I phoned her that afternoon and she asked me to come round. When I got there, she told me what her consultant had said. She didn’t speak about a prognosis but with a heavy heart, she told me that she wouldn’t live to see Talia grow up. Talia was seven at the time. She’d been told there were no treatment options available. It was just desperate. Typical of Mum, she didn’t want to tell anyone else about her diagnosis. She didn’t want sympathy. She was the boss, so I respected her wishes. I was completely shattered but I ‘shelved it’, wanting to look after and protect Talia and David.
“The next day, Mum had a phone call from the hospital, and they said because she’d responded well to surgery and because of her positive mental attitude, they were willing to try radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”
The treatment started and it was awful. It was so invasive, and she suffered with horrendous side effects. Mum started having seizures, she had a mouthfull of ulcers and had to drink through a straw. Her taste changed, she couldn’t enjoy her food anymore and she constantly felt nauseous. The list is endless. Even her physical appearance changed while she was on treatment. It was so tough, extremely cruel and the worst thing I have ever had to witness.
In October 2007, David needed to go into hospital to have part of his oesophagus removed as he had been diagnosed with a more treatable type of cancer. By then, Mum couldn’t make a cup of tea and would phone me to ask how to use the TV remote. Talia and I moved back home to support her while David was in hospital. On 16 October, I phoned the ward to see how he was, and they said we needed to go up straightaway. Mum and I got there to discover he was deteriorating, and they were putting him on a life support machine. David was the best stepfather I could wish for, though I rarely told him I loved him. When we left the hospital that day, I made sure I told him because I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. Later that day, however, I called the ward and they said he was doing OK. The next day, I phoned again, and they said we needed to go in.
When we arrived at David’s bedside, he was on maximum life support. I phoned David’s brother, Michael, so he could be with him too. The hospital staff turned down the support on the machine and we sat talking to David reliving happy memories. Mum and Michael had to leave David’s side briefly, to visit the bathroom. Mum knew the hospital like the back of her hand, having worked there for so many years, but her condition meant she would get lost and confused. Just after they’d left, I looked at the monitor screen next to David and realised that David was now quickly slipping away. He died when I was there on my own with him.
“As Mum and Michael came back in, she said: ‘he’s gone, hasn’t he?’. We were all devastated.”
David’s funeral was on 1 November and at the end of November, Mum insisted that Talia and I should move back home. She’d always been so independent. We were only around the corner and were there constantly, but it was awful,I didn’t want to leave her. After we left, she ended up staying in bed a lot of the time. At the beginning of December, I was getting really worried about her and phoned a doctor. He went to see her and admitted her to hospital. She didn’t want to be in hospital at all. She spent 10 days there and was on her own when a doctor told her there was nothing more that could be done for her. I was furious. Why would you tell a dying lady who had recently lost her husband this devastating news. She came home on 15 December, and I was looking after her, though I felt Mum wasn’t getting the specialist medical care she needed at home.
On 17 December, I spoke to Mum’s GP, and she managed to get Mum into Willow Wood Hospice in Tameside the following day. Mum said she’d only agree to going there if she could come home when she was better. My heart broke knowing that wouldn’t happen. The hospice was amazing. They sorted out all the ulcers in her mouth and showed her such care and compassion. For a few weeks, I got my mum back. I was there all day, every day. On New Year’s Day, Talia went to her dad’s and Mum and I lay together in Mum’s room, chatting all day long and reminiscing. It was such a beautiful day. The next day, I went back to see her, but she had slipped into a coma overnight. I knew she was nearing the end, but I had a feeling she would hold on until David’s birthday, which was 7 January. That’s exactly what she did. Talia and I were with her as she took her final breaths. She peacefully slipped away in my arms.
"It was heartbreaking but as peaceful as it could’ve been.”
Mum’s funeral was at the Albion Church in Ashton. It was the church where David’s funeral had taken place just 11 weeks previously. Looking back, I don’t know how I carried on, dealing with the loss of two of the closest people to me in such close succession. What I had witnessed with Mum’s brain tumour was horrific and barbaric.
I first heard of Brain Tumour Research through Sara, the daughter of the late Bill Tarmey, who played Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street and the sister of Carl Piddington, who also suffered with a GBM. Sara told me about the charity’s Wear A Hat Day, and we also took part in The Bill Tarmey Memorial 10k in aid of Brain Tumour Research. I have continued to support Brain Tumour Research ever since.
At my place of work at Denton Community College I organised a Christmas Jumper Day, with a bake sale and a raffle, Wear A Hat Day in March, and a stall at the summer fair which included many activities. Hobbycraft had kindly donated lots of craft items and during COVID-19 lockdown I had doorstep baskets filled to the brim with an honesty box for donations. It was so popular with all the families who were home-schooling their children.
I’m proud to have raised a total of nearly £7,000 through all my fundraising activities.
Talia and I had the opportunity to tour the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) which is led by Professor Silvia Marino. I felt very privileged to meet the scientists who are doing tremendous work to find a cure.
“It was very emotional, but I’m thrilled I’ve raised enough money to fund a day of research, which meant I could place a tile on the Wall of Hope. It’s an honour to remember Mum in this way.”
In July 2021, we’d just broken up for the summer holidays when I saw a job advertisement for the role of Community Fundraiser covering the North West with Brain Tumour Research. I had no professional background in the charity sector, but I had great experience in administration and my very personal connection to the cause. Both Talia and my partner Paul encouraged me to apply, so I did. I had butterflies in my stomach as I waited for news.
When I got the email inviting me for interview, I was delighted, and I was even more thrilled when I was offered the job. I started on 11 October and fourteen months in, I am loving it and still learning every day. Working from home, my job involves helping to raise awareness by engaging people with the work of the charity and by recruiting and supporting the fundraising of individuals, challenge event participants, Fundraising Groups and Charity of the Year partnerships. If I can do this highly rewarding job until the day I retire, I’ll be happy.
I feel privileged to be working for Brain Tumour Research and know Mum would be so proud. Talia’s proud of me too; she still misses her Grandie and Grandpa to bits. She was so close to them. We will never forget them. Mum was a courageous and inspirational lady, who I will always be so very proud to say: “Judi Morgan, that’s my mum”.
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.
If you have been touched by Judi’s tragic story you may like to make a donation via www.braintumourresearch.org/donate or leave a gift in your will via www.braintumourresearch.org/legacyTogether we will find a cure