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In Our Hearts Stories

Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years

Marilyn Reardon

Mum-of-three Marilyn Reardon had been experiencing unexplained tiredness with headaches and a metallic taste, when she suddenly became very fatigued and unable to walk properly in April 2018. Suspecting she had suffered a stroke, her husband rushed her to hospital where she was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma. The market researcher from Bromley, London, underwent a debulking surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Sadly, she developed a skin infection which led to sepsis and her weakened immune system was unable to recover. She died in March, 2019, aged 52.

Here is Marilyn’s story, as told by her son Sam …

Everybody described Mum as the life and soul of the party. She brought us so much joy. She had three sons, of which I’m the youngest, but she always managed to keep us in line. She was a really inspirational figure and the one who went out to work whilst my dad stayed at home to look after us. She considered us kids her greatest achievement in life and was supportive of everything we did. Dad had children from a previous marriage and they both called her their second mum. She was caring, forever putting others first, and was always there to lend an ear when you needed her.

“In 2018, she started complaining of having a weird taste in her mouth.”

She didn’t know what it was and had also been getting headaches but, after repeated visits to the doctor and hospital, all she was told was it might be linked to the menopause. Then one day she came downstairs to join my dad for a cup of tea after spending the morning resting in bed and, as she walked past him, he noticed she wasn’t walking properly. After a brief chat with my mum, he was concerned she could have been having a stroke, so he rushed her to the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH) in Bromley where they did a scan and found a mass on her brain.

“Mum’s glioblastoma (GBM) was caught late, so it was already quite large by the time it was discovered and she was given a prognosis of just 18 months.”

Sadly, she didn’t even make it that long. We were told there was no cure and given a treatment plan to try and extend her life. I was only 15 and at school when I got the news. My friend’s dad had gone through something similar so that helped a bit, but I remember breaking down before going into French class and having to compose myself. 

Mum underwent a debulking surgery at the start of May. She was in hospital for a couple of weeks but recovered well.

“She was pretty self-conscious about her scar at first but soon got her confidence back.”

She started high-dose radiotherapy and chemotherapy in June, and that was pretty rough. I remember her having swollen ankles and her hair falling out in the areas where she’d had the radiation treatment. She continued having chemo and things were looking up until a scan in February 2019 showed another tumour growing elsewhere in her brain.

“That’s when the doctors told us she was unlikely to survive much longer, which was really hard to hear.”

Mum passed away on 15 March 2019 after spending a week in ICU not really awake. She had a skin infection which led to sepsis and her immune system was so weak from all the chemo and radiation that it wasn’t strong enough to fight it off. I spent a lot of time in denial and went on with life like most kids would, thinking we had more time. Not spending more time with Mum is my biggest regret. When she went into ICU, I took the week off school. It was such a turnaround from having her walking about happy and fighting her disease to being largely unresponsive in the ICU.

“I know she could hear us though because I told her I loved her and she squeezed my hand.”

It was a rollercoaster week because, at first, the doctors told us the antibiotics they were giving Mum were working. Then things changed and they told us there was nothing more they could do. Eventually, we had to take her off life support. It was a hard experience but thankfully we were all there with her.

Mum had eight siblings so we’re a big family and we were all allowed to be in the ICU in that last week. We took over the entire waiting room and took it in turns to be with her. It brought us closer together, too. Dad stayed with her most nights, so the rest of our family looked after me and my two brothers. It was a lovely thing but obviously didn’t end the way we had hoped. She was only 52 when she died.

“We had no experience of brain tumours before Mum got sick.”

Knowing how common they are now and how little they’re spoken about makes my family determined to do everything we can to change this. We’ve organised several fundraisers, starting with a charity football match organised by my brother, Cameron. This led to my mum’s brother, Reuben, doing a bike ride for the charity and now my cousin, Lauren, is preparing to hike Ben Nevis at night.

“What happened to Mum had a big impact on me and I don’t want others to have to go through what I did.”

I’m a professional athlete, a runner, and she was always my biggest supporter. My dream has always been to compete in the Olympics and she said she couldn’t wait for me to be on a podium singing the national anthem. I went to the European Junior Championships in Estonia in 2021 and that’s the first time I got to sing it from a podium. I hope you enjoyed that, Mum.

Sam Reardon
June 2023

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.

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