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From the desk of Coach James

What I learned from having a brain tumour

This morning Facebook reminded me that five years ago I got up very early to go to hospital for surgery to remove a tumour from my brain. I thought I'd write a blog post about that, as it was such a big event.

My MRI scan showing the growth coming out the side of my head.

My family and I were gathered around a fire opening Christmas presents. Christmas has always been a special time in my household. I was sat on the sofa next to my dad, as I reached across to get a drink from the coffee table Dad exclaimed, “What’s that lump on the side of your head?” I felt the side of my face up by my ear, and there was a lump, “Oh, probably a cyst, I get them now and again.”.


On the request of my dad, shortly into the new year I made a doctor’s appointment. The doctor agreed with me that the lump on the side of my head was probably just a cyst, but told me to keep an eye on it.

A few months passed, the sales in the shops had ended and the drama of Christmas was over, for a few more months at least. I began to notice this lump on the side of my head a bit more now, it was rubbing on the arm of my glasses, and why was it still there? I returned to see the doctor, telling her that the lump was still there, and now causing me grief, rubbing on my glasses.


An appointment was made for me to go to the hospital for an ultrasound, which turned out to be inconclusive, so I was booked in for an MRI. An MRI is a bit unnerving, if you’ve ever had one, or seen it on Grey’s Anatomy, that big chamber thing that you go into lying down and you have to keep perfectly still. It’s like being in a coffin, they slotted this thing by my neck so I could not turn my head. And this machine is so noisy, you get given headphones to make it less of an ordeal.


It turned out my glasses-rubbing cyst was a brain tumour the size of a golf ball that had displaced half my brain and had eroded through my skull, popping out the side of my head, and that’s what my dad noticed.

I was rushed in to see a neurologist and he explained it was a very slow growing tumour, and had probably been growing for years. He said it was caused by a stray skin cell that may have got into my skull from being in a car accident when I was a child.


Seeing my brain scan on a computer screen made it all the more real. Mum cried and I didn’t know how to respond, having already been through so many setbacks, what’s another one?


I was in training for the London Marathon, which the neurologist said I could still do if I wanted but would like to get me in to have the growth in my head removed. On a long distance run I noticed a pressure build up in my head, like a knife pressing into me, so I thought it wise to withdraw from the marathon as I don’t want to be on a run constantly worrying if my head will explode.


My running coach at the time suggested I switch to short distance sprinting, which I did. I started running track twice a week, and continued to go to the gym four times a week. It’s surprising how I kept on with life unaware of a tumour dislodging my brain, and eroding through my skull.


A bespoke titanium plate had to be constructed to be fitted into my skull to go over the part that was missing. It took several months for this plate to be made, and it was difficult to get any clarification on when the thing would be ready.


During the months it took for the titanium plate to be made I started one hundred metre sprinting at a local athletics club, which I really enjoyed. Although I suffered from shin splits, and a sprained ankle, I still enjoyed seeing how far I could push myself.


The call finally arrived from the doctor to say my plate was now in and I was scheduled for brain surgery to remove the tumour, that had apparently started to grow down the inside of my face, and had attached itself to the inside of my cheek; so I’d have advanced surgery to remove that which required a but of facial reconstruction work.

I just wanted it to all be over.

The twelve-hour surgery was a success and although my parents were terrified, because I had had to sign a piece of paper saying I understood the risks the operation had associated with it, including death, I took it all in my stride.

I was booked to stay in the hospital for a week, post op, however I was only there for two days because my recovery was so good.


Although this was just another bump in the road for me, on my life’s journey a lot of people were amazed at how well I had done and could not believe I was sent home from hospital so quickly. I just wanted to get on with my discombobulated life.


What I really appreciated though was that because I was at a peak-fitness level, I was able to make such a good recovery. Thanks to the training in the gym I had done, combined with the running, my resting heartrate was very low and my heart was strong. The most noteworthy thing I can give you in how I dealt with it is that I have a very strong mind. Mindset is important. People around me were upset and tearful about it, and I was just like, “Something else for me to deal with.”


I naturally took good care of my health long before I knew about the growth in my head, but what I learned and it shows from this, is a strong body and strong mind, can get you through anything.

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