Having a brain tumour changed my outlook on life

Southern Health project supporting patients shortlisted for award

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Kelly Lee’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

At the age of 29, she had to undergo surgery and treatment for a pituitary adenoma.

Now, after a long road to recovery, she is aiming to help raise money for research into brain tumours.

Kelly Lee and her sister, Olympic swimmer Katy Sexton

Kelly Lee and her sister, Olympic swimmer Katy Sexton

They kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other type of cancer, yet just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to the disease.

Now Kelly has teamed up with her swimming champion sister Katy Sexton to raise funds for Brain Tumour Research by holding a swimathon.

It will take place on various days between Saturday, July 2 and Sunday, July 10.

She says: ‘I’m proud to be the inspiration behind the Katy Sexton Swim Academy swimathon for Brain Tumour Research.

I remember at one point wishing I could just shut my eyes and that would be it

‘I was 29 when I had my operation and it is dreadful to learn that brain tumours affect so many young people.’

Kelly, who lives with husband Kev in Waterlooville, went to the doctor after she had discovered her periods had stopped and her vision had started to get worse.

She had blood tests and then discovered that she had a tumour the size of a golf ball on her pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland is a pea-sized structure located at the base of the brain, to which it is attached via nerve fibres.

It produces critical hormones, which are chemical substances that control various bodily functions.

If the tumour hadn’t been discovered when it was, Kelly could have lost her sight – or the tumour could have killed her.

Kelly says: ‘My best friend is a consultant at the Queen Alexandra Hospital.

‘We just happened to be over at their house for dinner one evening and she warned me that it was probably a benign tumour, and what I needed to expect.

‘I had an MRI scan, which confirmed what it was.

‘Because my friend had told me that, when the doctors told me it was a tumour, I didn’t panic. It wasn’t cancerous.

‘It all happened so quickly. For me that was probably the best way to deal with it.

‘I think the seriousness of it hit me later on.

‘Finding out that I could have gone blind irreversibly was quite frightening.

‘The doctors said that because of the size of it, surgery was the only option.

‘It was too late for medication – it was so severe that I might not have lived long enough for the medication to shrink it.

‘I had to have surgery as a matter of urgency.’

Kelly went in for surgery just a few days before Christmas in 2008 and was sent home just two days later.

She says she wasn’t prepared for how ill she would feel after the operation.

‘I remember at one point wishing I could just shut my eyes and that would be it,’ she recalls.

‘My mum and sister and husband were there, but I felt so ill I couldn’t care if people were there or not.

‘I couldn’t even go to the toilet by myself.

‘Every time I moved my head, even a fraction, I was sick. It was horrible.

‘I was so ill I didn’t have the strength to walk.

‘It was almost like being drunk. I was drugged up to the eyeballs.

‘I wasn’t allowed to drive. For about six weeks I wasn’t allowed to be left on my own.

‘At first, I lost quite a bit of weight but because I was put on steroids I ended up putting on about three-and-a-half stone.

‘The recovery process probably took about three years.

‘I took each day as it came – I had good and bad days.

‘In the past three or four years I have been back to 100 per cent health.

‘But I am on daily medication because my pituitary gland doesn’t work, so my body doesn’t produce the hormones naturally.

‘Most mornings I get up and it’s almost like I have no energy.’

Kelly, now 36, had three months off work, after which she went back part-time to her job as a shipping clerk.

But in 2013 she decided to start her own dog grooming business, called Woofy Tails Ltd.

‘It made me think that there is more to life. I didn’t want to be sitting in front of a computer,’ she says.

‘This way I work for myself, so if I have a day where I don’t feel well, I don’t have to call in sick.’

Now Kelly has a different view on her illness.

‘When you go through something like that, it’s more worrying and horrible for those around you, like your close family, because they can’t do anything to help you.

‘But, as you are going through it, you just deal with it on a daily basis.

‘It’s probably changed things for the better. I’m quite lucky really.

‘It’s given me a different outlook on life. I am human, so sometimes little things do wind me up.

‘But, generally speaking, I don’t let minor things get to me.

‘Sometimes maybe I am too laid-back.

‘It makes me think there are more important things to worry about in life.

‘It’s probably made my marriage stronger. The support of my husband got me through it.

‘Sometimes things like that can cause issues and stress, which it probably did. But we got each other through it.

‘If we can deal with that, we can deal with anything.’