In Our Hearts Stories
Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years
Here is Timothy’s story, as told by his daughter, Kathryn…
Losing Dad at such a young age was heart-breaking but it has made me the person I am today. I’m a lot stronger because of what I’ve gone through and it’s put everything into perspective. I worry less about the small things in life. I’m currently studying A-Levels in Biology, Maths and Chemistry and have ambitions to go to the University of Southampton and pursue a career in biomedical science.
It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve learned more about Dad’s brain tumour and felt ready to share his story.Dad kept a lot to himself during his illness and I know this was because he was trying to protect me and Jessica from what was going on; we were just 10 and five when he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, in July 2012.
“Dad was a very caring and giving person and always wanted the best for people. I admired these qualities.”
In the months leading up to Dad’s diagnosis, I remember how he’d often have an ice pack on his head. He’d been suffering from severe headaches and was finding it harder to concentrate. Dad was very active; he had completed the London Marathon in April 2012, just three months before his diagnosis and, despite collapsing halfway through, he made it to the finish line. We now believe that he collapsed because of his tumour.
Dad went to and from his GP trying to determine the cause of his headaches. His symptoms were initially diagnosed as migraines but, when the pain got unbearable, he was referred for further tests at Southampton General Hospital, which included having an MRI scan.
When my grandma came up from her home in Somerset to be with Dad, I sensed things were more serious that I’d initially thought.
I’ll never forget the day that Dad told me ‘I’ve got a lump in my head’. The idea of it being cancer didn’t occur to me to start with. By this point, however, Dad already knew his bleak diagnosis: he had an aggressive and incurable glioblastoma multiforme and had just six months to live. He spared me and Jessica of the details to protect us.”
Dad took me to the Olympic Games in London in August 2012, just days before having an operation to remove his tumour. He had asked to delay his surgery until after the Olympics so he could be with me on the day, a testament to how selfless he was. Though it was a magical experience, I remember worrying about him having a seizure, which was tough to deal with, especially as a 10-year-old girl.
Dad had surgery at Southampton General Hospital in August 2012.The operation to remove his tumour lasted six hours. Dad experienced a number of side effects; his memory and ability to walk were badly affected for a few weeks. Dad also had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the effects of the treatment were hard to see. He lost all of his hair and became irritable and angry easily, which was out of character and in contrast to his usual warm and gentle self.
“Dad had an MRI every three months and devastatingly, in August 2013, the scan showed that his tumour had recurred. He had a second gruelling operation followed by months of chemotherapy at Southampton General Hospital.”
Having gone through so much as a family, it was Dad’s wish that we went on a skiing holiday together in Norway in January 2014. He was on chemotherapy at the time. He’d never been skiing and it was always something he’d wanted to do. Even though he was going through treatment, he didn’t appear ill at all. It was lovely to see Dad fit and well. He’d always been active, into running and cycling, so it was as if the dark days of Dad’s illness were behind us.
Sadly, the fond memories of our skiing holiday were soon replaced by more difficult times. The rest of 2014 seems like a blur and I can’t believe what we went through. Dad was declining and his tumour growing aggressively; he was in and out of hospital and on medication to help manage his pain. I had just started secondary school and while some of my close friends and teachers knew what was going on, I kept a lot to myself as a way of coping.
“School became a distraction from the devastation that was going on at home and gave me a sense of normality and routine. It gave me control in the midst of an unimaginable situation.”
It was in September 2014 that I began to realise there were no more treatment options for Dad. He was given end-of-life care at Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington and I remember going there everyday to see him as he became weaker. I had an idea of what was happening but Jessica was only eight and didn’t know what was going on.
We lost Dad in November 2014 and his death had a lasting impact on me and Jessica. I bottled up my feelings and have only felt ready to talk more openly about everything that happened in the last two years. Jessica was very down after Dad died and losing him had a huge emotional effect on her. Fortunately, she is more at peace with the situation now and is particularly enjoying drama as a means to channel her emotions.
“Looking back, I am grateful that even while dad was ill, we were able to enjoy precious memories together, such as experiencing the London Olympics and going skiing.”
I take Dad with me every day because of the wonderful times we shared together. I hope that I make him proud by studying hard and pursuing a career in biomedical science. When I learned more about Dad’s tumour, I became interested in what causes diseases and I was inspired to make a difference for other patients. It is shocking that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
I also became a member of the UK’s Youth Parliament in 2017 and I think my dad’s selfless personality inspired me to try to help others and give young people a voice. I was privileged to be involved in setting up the Hampshire Youth Council and I think dad would be proud of everything I have achieved.
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