Routine eye test saved my life

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Star reporter Ellen Beardmore is recovering from a rare brain tumour - discovered only during a routine eye test at Boots. Here she tells her shocking, and inspiring, story.

“IT’S a brain tumour.”

Star reporter Ellen Beardmore and optician Sam Jahmed.

Star reporter Ellen Beardmore and optician Sam Jahmed.

When a doctor first gave me that horrifying diagnosis, rushing back with the abnormal results of a CT scan, my world seemed to fall apart.

Profound shock is the only way to describe my reaction. Sobbing and crying soon followed.

Looking at the scan results was proof – the large tomato-sized benign tumour did actually exist, and it was causing a life-threatening build-up of brain fluid.

But the news just would not sink in.

Star reporter Ellen Beardmore and optician Sam Jahmed.

Star reporter Ellen Beardmore and optician Sam Jahmed.

It didn’t that first sleepless night, or while saying emotional goodbyes to my family from a surgical trolley, and it probably never will.

The shock was greater because the only previous symptoms I’d experienced were three mild headaches and an occasional rushing in the ears, signs I put down to tiredness.

I even had to be reluctantly convinced that my swollen optic nerves, spotted by an optician at Boots, really required an urgent trip to hospital – and that it was more important than going to work.

By its very nature brain surgery sounds like the most drastic of medical procedures.

In the days preceding it there was always the uppermost fear of waking up a different person or, not at all.

Over 12 hours a flap in my skull bone was cut open so consultant neurosurgeon Thomas Carroll and his team could painstakingly remove the acoustic neuroma piece by tiny piece.

A remnant, left behind to preserve the function of my facial nerve, will be treated with precise radiation therapy next year.

After surgery there have been times when recovery has been scary and frustrating.

But the fantastic staff at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital made it much more bearable.

When my heartbeat rocketed and my lips went numb on a confused first night in intensive care, one nurse held my hand, talking about her own life as a distraction, with incredible compassion.

Another spent an hour on a busy Friday night removing thick bandages from my head and carefully washing my hair in a first step towards normality.

There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to properly thank Mr Carroll for performing the surgery and putting me and my family and friends at ease beforehand.

Discharge from hospital took only a week, and the only permanent side effect has been losing my hearing on one side - a side effect with this type of tumour as it is on the acoustic nerve.

My experience has revealed a large number of people affected by brain tumours in Sheffield alone - some of whom kindly shared their stories.

Yet most of all it has shown how very fortunate I am.

Living minutes away from a hospital which provided the very best of care, and which is a leader in neurology, meant the problem was dealt with quickly.

Amazing support from friends, family and colleagues has helped to keep the bad times brief.

And, to have been diagnosed thanks to a simple eye test – and the dedication of optician Samantha Ahmed, seems like nothing less than a miracle.

Thanks to having a brain tumour I feel like I am the luckiest person in the country.

* Acoustic neuromas are benign brain tumours on the acoustic nerve, which controls hearing and balance.

* Symptoms include new hearing loss or tinnitus, vertigo, facial numbness and pain, temporary sight problems and headaches.

* They may develop gradually as the tumour is slow growing, and it can be difficult to diagnose.

* Consultant neurosurgeon Thomas Carroll said: “Opticians do occasionally pick this tumour up. It’s always good to have your eyes checked regularly and this type of tumour is also a cause of new one-sided deafness, so if anybody has that it should be looked at.”

* The cause of most acoustic neuromas, which grow from a certain type of cell, is unknown.

* Twenty in every million people will develop an acoustic neuroma, according to the NHS.

* Treatment, depending on the size of the growth, can include monitoring the tumour, surgery, radiotherapy or stereotactic radiosurgery.