In Our Hearts Stories
Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years
Renowned equine orthopaedic vet Svend-Erik Kold was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (GBM) in early summer 2021. The Danish-born father-of-two, who lived in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy but died in October 2022, aged 69.
Here is Svend-Erik’s story, as told by his daughter Olivia
Dad was a wonderful person, a dedicated and well-respected vet and a fantastic father to me and my younger sister. He was extremely hard-working and world-renowned in his field, but he always managed to be there for our achievements. He was born in Denmark and his career brought him to the UK. He still had work ties to both countries and split his time between them, and the Netherlands and Germany. He had some work published and a book he co-wrote, Clinical Radiology of the Horse, is regarded as one of the best in the industry. He also had a great sense of humour and I’ll always be proud to call him my dad.
“His illness came completely out of the blue in the summer of 2021.”
There had been a few incidents we had attributed to concussion following a fall he had while road cycling, but outwardly, up until then, he had always been really healthy and active. He sought medical advice and had been reassured but he decided to push for a scan. He finally had one at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, and that’s when they found a mass on his brain.
He was quickly admitted to the Southmead Hospital in Bristol for a debulking surgery. A biopsy taken at the same time revealed a few weeks later that he had a grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM). As a result of changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dad was given this news via a Zoom call, which I think made it that little bit more brutal. We were all in complete shock.
“It didn’t seem possible that someone who was so health conscious, who didn’t drink or smoke and spent so much of his time outdoors, could be so unwell.”
Having turned to ‘Doctor Google’, which I wouldn’t recommend anyone does, even before the biopsy results I had begun to suspect he might have a GBM. I was immediately struck by how common brain tumours are, how poor their prognosis is, how treatments for them haven’t changed in decades and by how little the government invests in research.
“Nothing added up, it all seemed so hopeless from the outside.”
Dad had combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed by six months of chemo. We couldn’t believe how well he was doing. He made an effort to get up and enjoy every day as best he could. I really admired him for it because his life changed dramatically overnight.
“He immediately retired from the job he loved, and he was stripped of his independence by having his driving licence taken away.”
His treatment finished at the beginning of 2022 and life carried on much the same as it had before. Outwardly Dad appeared really strong. I think he stayed like that for me, my sister and Mum, which in turn gave us hope and positivity. I know he really missed his work but he was grateful to be able to spend time with us and was determined to make the most of the next phase of his life.
“Dad had a fall over the Jubilee weekend in June and was taken into hospital.”
He had been experiencing some pain and it transpired that his bones hadn’t been well protected during his treatment. He was admitted to Cheltenham General Hospital for nine weeks in total, which was really hard. For Mum, it was a two-hour round trip, but she still visited him daily.
We were referred to Longfield Hospice in Gloucester, which provides in-home care. They helped us prepare a room for Dad on the ground floor of our house and were fantastic. The compassion they showed, not just to Dad, but to me, my mum and my sister is something we’ll forever be grateful for. We are massively indebted to them for all they did. My mum was also incredible. The hospice staff visited a few times a day but she is the one who stayed by Dad’s bedside right up until he passed away in October 2022. That shift from spouse and partner to full-time carer must have been really difficult, especially whilst supporting me and my sister, as she continues to do.
“Dad was the central figure in our household, our nucleus, and life without him is completely different.”
Going through the trauma of losing someone like that shapes your view on mortality. I’m definitely more worried now about my own health, and how random illness can be. It also makes me feel really motivated to do what I can to prevent others from enduring the same heartache. We need to keep pushing to find a cure for brain tumours.
“What we went through with Dad was horrific and no one warned us about how hard it would be in the end.”
I just couldn’t have imagined the way a brain tumour would cause a person to deteriorate. I still feel quite protective of Dad for the way he was at the end. He was such a force until then, and such a proud man that it doesn’t feel right to describe in detail the way it affected every part of him. Despite the effects of the tumour and treatment, even in the final weeks of his life he could still surprise us by remembering details like a racehorse’s pedigree or a name I had forgotten!
“Dad had worked as a vet at Ascot for 36 years before he died.”
He loved race days and had worked at Ascot, Epsom Downs, Kempton Park and Sandown Park. I’m a media manager and followed in his footsteps somewhat in the racing world, in which he took great pride. Strangely I was at Ascot the day he died. The racecourse was entirely empty except for me and the two people I was filming with, and the sun was shining. It was as I was leaving that Mum phoned and gave me the news. It was as if he had waited for me to be somewhere he loved before letting go.
“We went to Denmark a few weeks ago for a memorial lecture in his honour.”
Dad was posthumously honoured by the Danish Veterinary Association. It was very moving and I know he would have been very touched the industry he had worked in had acknowledged his life’s work. There’s also going to be a race run in Dad’s memory this summer. It’s lovely to see him being remembered and I hope that’s still the case many years from now. I know I’ll never forget him.
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 Svend-Erik’s you may like to make a donation via www.braintumourresearch.org/donate or leave a gift in your will via www.braintumourresearch.org/legacy
Together we will find a cure