Me­lanie Hennessy was ec­static to fi­nally be­come a mum – but then be­gan her fight for life

Friday - - Health - Me­lanie Hennessy, 42, lives in Red­car, North York­shire, Eng­land. www.just­giv­ money is needed ev­ery­day

In a drawer in my bed­room, there are two letters – one for my hus­band Wayne and one for our four-year-old daugh­ter, Daisy. When I wrote them, I was fac­ing brain surgery, and none of us knew if I would sur­vive. Even if I did get through it, could have been left paral­ysed or un­able to talk. While I could still com­mu­ni­cate, I wanted to tell Wayne and Daisy to get on with their lives and be happy, but to al­ways re­mem­ber me. Even now, al­most four years on, it breaks my heart to read my last wishes for their fu­ture with­out me.

I’d been with Wayne, 45, a pipe fit­ter at power sta­tions, for five years when we started try­ing for a baby. I was work­ing as a beauty ther­apy tu­tor at the Red­car and Cleve­land Col­lege in North York­shire, UK, and when I wasn’t preg­nant af­ter a year, I un­der­went tests, but no one could ex­plain why I couldn’t con­ceive. Fer­til­ity drugs and four at­tempts at IVF in two years didn’t work. Then, mirac­u­lously, I be­came preg­nant nat­u­rally while we were on hol­i­day in Malaysia. Ev­ery­one laughed when I told them if my baby was a girl, I’d call her Daisy Boo!

I had an easy preg­nancy and couldn’t wait to have my baby and fi­nally be a fam­ily. Daisy was a gor­geous 2.9kg baby,

yet within min­utes of hav­ing her in Septem­ber 2009, I had the most aw­ful headache.

Ileft hospi­tal two days af­ter my cae­sar­ian sec­tion, but by the time Daisy was four days old, I’d never known any­thing like the pain in my eyes and eye sock­ets. I put it down to the epidu­ral I’d had. I re­mem­bered read­ing that al­though rare, a headache – called a post dural punc­ture headache – may de­velop af­ter an epidu­ral or spinal in­jec­tion.

My GP as­sured me ev­ery­thing was fine but the vi­sion in my eyes, par­tic­u­larly the left eye, was weak. Wayne also no­ticed the left side of my face wasn’t mov­ing and was swollen so my doc­tor re­ferred me to hospi­tal. There I was di­ag­nosed with Bell’s Palsy – a form of fa­cial paral­y­sis due to mus­cle or nerve weak­ness – and given 10 days of steroids and eye drops. The med­i­ca­tion seemed to help and at last I felt well enough to en­joy my baby girl.

How­ever, once the treat­ment ended, my symp­toms – pain and vi­sion loss – re­turned. It was then I asked the con­sul­tant when I would get my eye­sight back prop­erly. This must have rung some alarm bells, be­cause I was sent for a scan. I wasn’t wor­ried. I was more both­ered about get­ting out to the shops to buy some new clothes for my baby. Then I looked at the con­sul­tant. “We’ve found a lump. It’s a large tu­mour. We think it’s a menin­gioma,” he said.

I had no idea what a menin­gioma was. When told it was a type of brain tu­mour, I asked if it meant I had cancer. They said they wouldn’t know un­til they’d car­ried out surgery. I was in shock. And ter­ri­fied. I’d just had my daugh­ter and felt my life was just be­gin­ning. I didn’t want it all to end. In that sec­ond my whole life changed.

‘So my baby saved my life,’ I gasped. I couldn’t be­lieve some­thing that size was inmy head

No longer was I go­ing shop­ping. I was fac­ing surgery. It didn’t seem fair. I just wanted to sur­vive and be a mother. Shak­ing, I called Wayne. “I’ve got a brain tu­mour,” I stam­mered. He was in tears when he got to the hospi­tal. Over the next few days I sat on our bed at home. “Does this mean I’m go­ing to die?” I sobbed.

At the hospi­tal, I was shown my scan im­ages. I saw the tu­mour started be­hind my left eye and went all the way down to the base of my skull, wrap­ping it­self like an oc­to­pus around parts of my brain.

Over on the right side, I spotted a sep­a­rate, sim­i­lar, smaller grey area. “What’s that?” I asked my doc­tor, only to be told it was a sec­ond smaller tu­mour. The doc­tors weren’t as wor­ried about that – it was the big one that alarmed them. They said that if I hadn’t be­come preg­nant, the tu­mours would have car­ried on grow­ing at a much slower rate and with­out me ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any wor­ry­ing symp­toms they wouldn’t have been spotted un­til it was too late, with the po­ten­tial of me suf­fer­ing a life-threat­en­ing seizure.

“So my baby saved my life,” I gasped. I couldn’t be­lieve some­thing that size was in­side my head.

I was sched­uled to have surgery to re­move the large tu­mour at The James Cook Univer­sity Hospi­tal in Middlesbrough in north­ern Eng­land. In the four months – the time re­quired to pre­pare for the surgery – leading up to it, I had to see bone con­sul­tants be­cause my skull would have to be sanded down prior to the oper­a­tion to make it eas­ier for the doc­tors to open it for surgery. I also saw eye spe­cial­ists be­cause some days I could see, yet other days I could barely make out shapes. Those

were dif­fi­cult times but Wayne or his mother was al­ways by my side, help­ing me look af­ter Daisy. I even did maths and mem­ory tests at the hospi­tal so the doc­tors could check me af­ter the oper­a­tion and see if my men­tal fac­ul­ties were the same.

Then I did the hard­est thing I’ve ever had to do. I’d been warned the oper­a­tion could leave me paral­ysed. “We are deal­ing with the area around the brain and there is a like­li­hood that some­thing could go very wrong,” a doc­tor told me. “Part of the tu­mour is at­tached to the por­tion of the brain that con­trols speech so you could have trou­ble speak­ing.’’

I reeled, scared. The oper­a­tion was ex­tremely tricky be­cause the tu­mour was around the brain and one mis­take could leave me paral­ysed or, in the worst case sce­nario, dead.

So I wrote letters for Wayne and Daisy. “I want you to be happy and find a new mummy for Daisy. And please leave a pho­to­graph of mine up so you both can see me,” I wrote to Wayne, with tears in my eyes. I ended by say­ing I would al­ways love him.

To Daisy, I said the six months we’d had to­gether were the best ever. “I’m sure you will grow up to be a beau­ti­ful and spe­cial girl. Don’t for­get to help Daddy to smile by giv­ing him kisses and cud­dles,” I wrote. “I will be the bright­est star in the sky, al­ways look­ing down on you, pro­tect­ing you.” Then I hid the letters.

On the day of my oper­a­tion, Daisy was in Wayne’s arms as he walked along­side my hospi­tal trol­ley to theatre at 7.30am. “I’ll be back soon,” I laughed, want­ing their last mem­ory of me to be a happy one. In­side I was ter­ri­fied. “Would this be the last time I’d see them?” I turned to look at them for the last time be­fore the doors of the theatre closed and then I was be­ing asked to count back­wards from 10 and ev­ery­thing went black...

I was in theatre for 11 hours, as the oper­a­tion was more com­pli­cated than con­sul­tants had thought. They man­aged to re­move 30 per cent of the large tu­mour, which they saw as a suc­cess. Re­mov­ing any more would be tricky and could af­fect the brain, they felt. When Wayne and Daisy came in I was wired up to ma­chines. I couldn’t see with my left eye, but with my right I made out their faces, and smiled. Wayne squeezed my hand gen­tly. “I love you,” he said. There was a scar that ran half­way around my head but I ral­lied enough to go home a week later.

Wayne must have felt he had two ba­bies to look af­ter be­cause he had to wash and dress me as well as Daisy. Some­thing seemed to have gone wrong in surgery – the doc­tors don’t know what hap­pened – be­cause I’d lost a lot of blood and my abil­ity to talk and walk. A speech ther­a­pist helped me talk again. Two weeks af­ter the oper­a­tion, we had some good news. The tu­mour was be­nign.

Slowly, I grew stronger, and with Wayne’s help learnt to walk again, us­ing Daisy’s buggy as a sup­port. That sum­mer, ev­ery day for six weeks, I un­der­went to­mother­apy, a type of ra­dio­ther­apy to shrink the tu­mour, or stop it grow­ing. The side ef­fects left me feel­ing as if my mouth was on fire. Un­able to eat, I lost weight.

But over the months I re­cov­ered, hav­ing scans ev­ery three months, then ev­ery eight months and now I go ev­ery nine months. Though the tu­mours aren’t get­ting big­ger, I still get tired. Some days my legs feel as if they’ll give way be­neath me. My brain some­times takes ages to get into gear and I be­come frus­trated.

I know I’ll have to have an­other oper­a­tion to re­move the rest of the tu­mour, but it may be in five years, or 15 – who knows? What­ever hap­pens, I want to leave my mark on the world.

There are 120 dif­fer­ent types of brain tu­mour, so just over a year ago, I launched an um­brella group called MINE, Money Is Needed Ev­ery Day to raise funds for brain tu­mour re­search. So far I’ve raised £6,500 (Dh39,760) by par­tic­i­pat­ing in walks and runs. Last June Wayne ran a half marathon to help. I was so proud. I know I’ve been lucky. I’m 42 now and some­times won­der what would have hap­pened if I hadn’t had Daisy – would the tu­mour have con­tin­ued to grow in­side me un­til it was too late?

I truly be­lieve Daisy saved my life in so many ways. Doc­tors told us that my slowly grow­ing tu­mours would prob­a­bly have re­mained un­no­ticed had it not been for my preg­nancy. They said I might have had them for 10 years. Daisy has given me the strength to fight on.

I’m so grate­ful for many things – for my won­der­ful hus­band and beau­ti­ful daugh­ter, that I’m not paral­ysed, that I can still see with my right eye, and that I can go with Daisy for a cake and a cof­fee as she puts it! Hav­ing a brain tu­mour makes you open your eyes and ap­pre­ci­ate life.

I live ev­ery day as if it were my last so that if Wayne and Daisy ever need to read those letters, they’ll re­mem­ber me as full of life and fun!

I wrote love letters toWayne and Daisy

I still bear the scars of my surgery

I had daily ses­sions of to­mother­apy

Wayne and Daisy help to raise funds

With­Wayne, the rock of my life

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