In November 2013 I was enjoying my life. I had achieved the vast majority of my life goals. I had a successful business importing health products and also worked as a freelance personal fitness trainer. I was happily married, we had just bought a new home and the next box to tick was starting a family. And then the headaches started.....
I initially started suffering with headaches at work in the gym but wasn't concerned and just took an aspirin. To begin with, the medication controlled the pain but the headaches continued to return and they were becoming progressively worse. After a week or two, in addition to the headaches I began to notice I was suffering short term memory loss and occasional confusion. One notable incident was trying to walk into my neighbour's house after returning from work one evening!
It was at this point that that, although I didn't feel stressed, I concluded that the headaches/memory loss etc must be stress related so I suggested to my wife that we take a break for a few days.
One of our favourite places is the village of Benahavis in Southern Spain and we decided that a few days there would provide the perfect antidote to my headaches. So off we went on 15 November and planned to stay there for a week.
The first two days were great, the weather was surprisingly good for November and, although my headaches had not disappeared, there was a definite improvement!
Having overindulged in one of the many excellent restaurants in Benahavis on the Saturday evening I decided to go for a run on Sunday afternoon. It was during this run that the headaches became much worse and I started to feel quite ill. On my return to the villa I tried to eat something but couldn't hold it down and I spent the next few hours feeling like my head was going to explode whilst constantly vomiting.
Clearly by now I was beginning to realize that this was not simply stress related and we made the decision to fly home at the earliest opportunity. We managed to get on the first flight out of Malaga at 11am on Monday 18 November. Due to the pain I was in I hadn't slept at all but we still had no idea of how serious my illness was so I drove the hire car to the airport and actually started to feel a little better.
After the plane had taken off my condition very quickly deteriorated again and I spent the whole flight back to Manchester being sick. When we landed and I left the pressurized environment of the plane I once again recovered a little and felt ok to go home but I thought I should call the NHS helpline for some advice. There are many factors that contributed to saving my life over the following hours but the advice from the NHS helpline operator is undoubtedly one of the most important ones. Once I had explained my symptoms she immediately told me to stay at the airport while she arranged for an ambulance to collect me and take me to hospital for tests. I convinced my wife that she didn't need to accompany me and that I would call her as soon as I got the all clear.
I was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester where I was given a brain scan and sent into a room to wait for the results. During this period I began to feel confused again and sent my wife a message to say that I was going home. She immediately came to the hospital and insisted I was going nowhere until we got the results. After a while the registrar came in and ushered us into another room and this is when I started to realize that this might be something very serious. After we sat down, the registrar proceeded to inform us that I had a very large brain tumour and I needed to be transferred to Salford Royal Hospital urgently.
I was by now drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering from pain that I wouldn't wish on anyone. The surgeons assessed me and decided that if they didn't operate immediately then I would not survive the day. The immense intracranial pressure caused by the tumour had resulted in me showing signs of 'cushings disease' which is an indication that end of life is near.
The tumour, which was located in my front right lobe, was 8cm x 5cm and the emergency resection that the surgeons performed just removed part of it but enough to save my life.
I was subsequently informed that the tumour was an aggressive Anaplastic Astrocytoma and that it was incurable. Upon hearing this I went through a period of feeling the lowest I have ever been. Its hard to describe it but I just felt 'empty' and 'numb'.
This is a journey that unfortunately most cancer sufferers will need to go through when they are given their diagnosis. It is one awful component of the process of coming to terms with the disease. None of us really expect to get cancer but the brutal truth is that, statistically speaking, many of us will at some point.
There is unlikely to be a happy ending for me as at the moment my disease is 'incurable'. But I have had a second operation which removed virtually all of the tumour and following a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy I am now having clear scans.
The odds are that the cancer will return one day but I have now come to terms with that and I am confident I will never have to venture into that deep dark place I was in after the initial diagnosis.
I have returned to work, managed to keep my business going throughout my ordeal, and I feel great!
I mentioned earlier that in November 2013 I was enjoying my life and had achieved most of my goals. After a 'blip' I am now back in the game and looking forward to the future. Time to start ticking those boxes again.