Real life: ‘We told our girl she had a brain tumour on Christmas Day’
Jenny Day, 51, revealed the worst possible news, on what should have been the happiest day of the year
As Jenny Day watched her 15year-old daughter, Amanda, opening presents under the tree, she tried her best to appear happy and calm. For Amanda, it was a Christmas Day just like any other. But behind Jenny’s smile, she knew the horror that was to come. That she was about to ruin her daughter’s favourite day of the year…
Back in April 2013, Amanda was a busy teenager.
‘When she wasn’t performing in dancing shows, she’d be watching her favourite film, Step Up, with her big sister, Rebecca,’ says Jenny. ‘She was revising for her GCSEs – she wanted to study art at college – and, while she was nervous, I knew she’d do well. My husband, Gary, and I were so proud.’
But then, Amanda began complaining of headaches. As a sufferer herself, Jenny thought she’d inherited them from her and, knowing they can be brought on by hormones, she thought Amanda would grow out of them. But they only got worse – she’d have a headache every day and soon she was getting backache too. During the summer holidays, rather than going shopping with her friends, all she wanted to do was lie on the sofa.
And then, in September 2013, Jenny had just got home from doing the weekly shop when the phone rang
– it was Amanda’s school. They said she’d collapsed after complaining of a headache.
When Jenny arrived at the school gates 10 minutes later, she saw Amanda being stretchered into an ambulance, conscious but upset.
At the hospital, the CT scan came back clear. ‘The consultant said it was just a
bad migraine,’ remembers Jenny.
‘We were sent home with painkillers and an appointment for a routine follow-up in two months’ time.’
But despite the doctor’s diagnosis, in the weeks that followed Amanda started having pains in her legs, and her vision became blurry. So, in November 2013, at the follow-up appointment, Jenny demanded Amanda was given an MRI scan.
It was scheduled for 22 December. In the meantime, though, the family prepared for Christmas as usual, and three days before went for the scan as arranged.
But then, on Christmas Eve, Jenny was peeling potatoes when the phone rang. It was the consultant from the hospital.
‘I didn’t want Rebecca or Amanda to overhear, so I went upstairs,’ says Jenny.
‘The consultant said, “I’m
‘I’d rush into the bathroom and cry’
so sorry but Amanda has a brain tumour.” She’d need to go to hospital on Boxing Day, and would need surgery.’
As Jenny put the phone down, she felt her legs give way. ‘I couldn’t believe this was really happening,’ she says. ‘Then Gary came into the room, and sat on the floor next to me and, after telling him the news, we held each other and sobbed.’
‘It was such awful timing,’ says Jenny. ‘Tomorrow was Christmas Day and Amanda was so excited – the first time I’d seen her smile in months. I thought I can’t ruin her Christmas.’
So, Jenny and Gary decided that they’d protect Amanda from the truth. Wiping away their tears, they went back downstairs and pretended everything was normal.
The next morning, as Amanda opened her gifts Gary started filming her on his phone. ‘I tried not to cry – I knew it was because he thought this Christmas might be her last,’ says Jenny. ‘I forced a smile as we toasted with Champagne and tucked into turkey and all the trimmings. If I felt my resolve wavering, I’d rush to the bathroom and cry.’
But by that afternoon, the couple knew they couldn’t keep the secret any longer – they had to go to the hospital the next day and Amanda needed to be prepared. Even so, Jenny felt so guilty.
‘I didn’t know how she’d react,’ says Jenny. ‘But she simply sighed. “At least we know what it is now”, she said. Seeing her so strong, I felt so proud. I knew it then that my girl was a fighter.’ The family were at hospital early on Boxing Day. A detailed MRI scan revealed that the tumour was on Amanda’s brain stem, which affects vision, breathing, movement and consciousness. Four days later, she had an operation to remove it.
After five hours, they were given the good news. The operation was a success, and the surgical team had removed 90% of the tumour.
Amanda’s recovery was long, and while Gary went to work as a mechanic Jenny stayed with her every single day. She caught infections and needed further surgery to remove fluid from her brain. And sadly, they learnt that the tumour would have lasting effects. Amanda would suffer with fatigue and delays in her learning.
But slowly, Amanda continued to improve. The headaches disappeared, and she grew stronger. In February 2014, she began an intensive course of radiotherapy. ‘She had to have the treatment five days a week for six weeks,’ says Jenny. ‘But – as ever – Amanda didn’t get upset or question why this was happening to her.’
And finally, in April 2014, Amanda’s treatment was over. ‘The tumour hasn’t completely gone – because of its positioning, and the fact that it has a blood supply – it means it will always be there, and may grow again in the future,’ says Jenny. ‘But for now, she’s stable and continues to have scans every year.’
Although it’s hard not to think back to that terrible day, the family are doing their best to move forward. ‘Every year, I’m reminded of how lucky we are,’ says Jenny. ‘Christmas is a time for being with the ones you love – I’m so glad that our wonderful daughter is still with us.’
For more information, visit braintumourresearch.org
Amanda had her operation just days later
Years gone by: Amanda has always been a fan of Christmas