Receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of just 38 is a devastating blow.
But father-of-two Stuart Piper is making the most of the precious time he has with his family – and helping to raise awareness about brain tumours.
Stuart, from Gosport, has had a great deal of support since his diagnosis a year ago – including from his 12-year-old daughter Abigail, who had her hair cut and donated it to the Little Princess Trust.
But what is it like for a family dealing with the news that dad has an incurable brain tumour?
‘It was at the end of April that I first went to the doctor,’ says Stuart, who is also father to 10-year-old Megan.
‘Before that I had got a lot of intense migraines for quite a few years.
‘I went to the doctor and was put on tablets, which seemed to work quite well.
‘But the migraines were getting a lot closer together and then I started getting a bad neck pain.’
His wife Debbie, also 38, says she knew something wasn’t quite right.
‘In the end he took a day off work and he got a doctor’s appointment,’ she adds.
‘Immediately, they said let’s look into the eye and that’s when they discovered a shadow in the right eye.
‘Over the next day, he really deteriorated. He was in a lot of pain. There was so much pressure on the eye.
‘Stuart was pretty ill. He was almost in a drunken state. He was vomiting, he had a high temperature.
‘At that point I called an ambulance because I was very concerned. We didn’t know what was going on.’
Paramedics arrived and managed to stabilise him and give him some pain relief. The next day, he had a hospital appointment where he had a CT scan.
‘That’s when they told us that they had found a brain tumour,’ Debbie adds.
‘I just remember running to the toilet and throwing up because of the shock. My stomach was in knots.
‘I felt awful leaving him. I was driving home thinking “what do I tell the girls?”. It was hard because I didn’t know what to say.’
Stuart says it was difficult to digest the devastating news that he had cancer.
‘From what I can remember, it was incredibly hard to take in. That sort of news is something you aren’t expecting at all.’
Stuart was transferred to Southampton General Hospital, where he had an operation to remove around 95 per cent of the tumour.
But shortly afterwards, he found out that he had a glioblastoma multiforme, also known as GBM. It was a grade four tumour and Stuart has been told that it will grow back.
‘Until then, we didn’t know the severity of it or how it was going to grow back and how aggressive it was going to be,’ says Debbie.
As part of his treatment, Stuart had a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Now he is enjoying time with his family. He has gone back to work two days a week and is trying to get back to normal.
‘You just don’t know how quickly it’s going to grow back or when,’ Stuart says.
Debbie adds: ‘We have tried to be so positive. Now it’s about quality of life over quantity.
‘The support is as important as the treatment. If we hadn’t had that support I don’t think we would have got through this. We are never going to get remission. That’s the hardest bit to struggle with.
‘He’s been amazing throughout it all. He’s said ‘‘I’m not going to let it beat me’’.
But rather than wallowing in self pity, the family are now working together to make people aware of brain tumours and the symptoms that come with them.
Stuart says it’s a welcome distraction to his illness.
‘It gives me a bit of direction, knowing that we are doing something that might make a difference to someone else.
‘It’s quite surprising how many people have been affected. It’s not something you talk about openly.
‘People don’t realise that it’s a life sentence and it’s a ticking timebomb.
‘My personal feeling is it’s about trying to protect the girls and Debbie. When something happens to me, it happens, but Debbie and the girls have got to carry on.’
Debbie says it’s been difficult for the family to deal with.
‘It just changes your whole perspective. I was a worrier before. Now I just think live life how you want to. You don’t know what’s around the corner.’
‘SUPPORT IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE TREATMENT’
Following Stuart’s diagnosis, the Piper family have been determined to help others who have also been affected by brain tumours.
They have raised more than £10,000 for The Brain Tumour Charity through Christmas light displays, coffee mornings and Abigail’s sponsored haircut.
The charity has supported the family throughout Stuart’s diagnosis.
Four friends will also be taking on an abseil down the Spinnaker Tower at the end of this month.
‘Our family, friends, work colleagues and community have really come together to support us since we have had the diagnosis, which has been fantastic,’ Debbie says.
‘This support is as equally important to us as the treatment which Stuart is undergoing.
‘We have seen first-hand how devastating a brain tumour can be and want to make sure other families don’t have to go through what we are.’
To donate to the Spinnaker Tower challenge, please visit justgiving.com/fundraising/Tarah-Puxty.
For more information about the charity, please visit thebraintumourcharity.org.