God, this one has been hard to write. Go gently on me with this one, people.
I've known three people with brain tumors (or tumours, as we spell it in Britain). One was my parents' neighbour, mother of a girl I went to school with. She died. The second was my favourite uncle, a man I cared for very much. He also died.
And then there was me.
In 1981 I was in my first year of secondary school, just approaching my 13th birthday, when I had a mild headache during the morning, and thought I'd "bunk off", "skive" or "dog it" from school that afternoon. As the week went by, the headache stayed and I started vomiting, until I was sent to a Glasgow hospital for an EEG (electroencephalogram, a brain scan).
I was then sent to the Southern General hospital in Glasgow for neurosurgery (brain surgery). I woke from surgery with my head shaved and a plastic tube draining fluid from my head to my stomach area. This tube has periodically given me sharp pains which may last as long as a day or two: it still causes these pains now, 27 years later. And they kept poking me with needles until my arms bruised.
Then we moved on to radiotherapy - my hair had no time to grow back - the radiation made it fall out again. And the treatment that was designed to cure my vomiting now made me spew up even more. I tried to stay cheerful throughout, telling corny jokes and scoffing on the chocolates and fruit sent by well-wishers. Mum drove me every day to the radiotherapy, and we got to know the staff quite well.
You know how radiotherapy works, right? They focus three weak beams of radiation which won't damage tissue on a focal point, the tumour, so the three beams converge on one point, and kill the tumour. I had to wear a plastic helmet to make sure the beams focussed right.
So anyway, they kept giving me these eye tests, right? At first I got perfect scores, then I started getting double vision and one eye became stronger than the other. It turned out the tumour was near the optic nerve, and the damage they did to the tumour was also damaging my eye. Thankfully it didn't get any worse - I wear spectacles now, and one eye is still lazy.
After several weeks of therapy and disrupted sleep patterns, I was eventually given a clear diagnosis.
Anyway, it all ended happily. After several weeks of therapy and disrupted sleep patterns, I was eventually given a clear diagnosis. The stomach pains still continue, but as one doctor put to me recently, "At least you're alive, right?" I'm a survivor.
So that's my story - thanks for listening.