Beth Staley is a student at Cardiff University who will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world, to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research. Beth has first-hand experience of cancer, as in 2014 she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Here she shares her personal story of how cancer research saved her life.
When and how were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with a brain tumour on Christmas Eve 2014 when I was 19 years old. Although I had been having headaches for a while, it was completely unexpected. I began to notice something was wrong when about 4 months earlier I started to get episodes of pins and needles in the left hand side of my face and down my left arm, I didn’t take much notice of this but then I developed double vision and so I went to the opticians for an eye test. She noticed a haemorrhage on the optic nerve in my right eye, caused by the pressure of my swollen brain. She sent me into eye casualty and the doctors did an MRI head scan and found my brain tumour. Originally it was suggested just by looking at the scans that the tumour was benign, however, after my first brain surgery I was diagnosed officially with a Malignant Grade Three Ependymoma, but for short we named it Timmy.
How did the treatment go?
Thankfully my brain tumour was located on the right hand side of my brain in a position where it could be surgically removed and so I spent most of 2015 in and out of hospital being treated. I had my first brain surgery in January 2015. To monitor my brain function during the operation I was awake throughout the surgery. It lasted for eight hours and was definitely the most surreal experience that I have ever had, but it was actually really fascinating. I had an amazing team of doctors in the theatre with me who kept me occupied, and I watched Harry Potter movies on a phone screen that one of the doctors held up for me. I went on to have three further surgeries throughout the year, the last one being at the end of September, and as a result my tumour was completely removed. To try and prevent the tumour from returning in the future, I also had seven weeks of daily radiotherapy. I had my first completely clear, brain tumour and cancer free scan in December 2015; it was the best day ever.
What got you through it all?
I had the most amazing team of doctors and nurses who treated me throughout the year. I know that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them, and I am extremely grateful for everything they have done for me. Their talent and undying support has been incredible. I also received the most amazing support from my family and friends. I moved back home from university after I was diagnosed, and completed my university year at home, as all of the treatment I had was completed in Oxford near to where I live, and I just wanted to be with my family. I have the most supportive parents and little sister, and they were there with me throughout all of my treatment, I know I couldn’t have done it without them. I am also lucky enough to have the most amazing group of friends both at home and at university. They have been so supportive and caring and have stuck by me throughout all of my treatment. I decided to carry on my university degree throughout my treatment and just work from home instead. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this if it wasn’t for the support I received from the university. They stood by my decision to carry on with my study and made adjustments to my deadlines. My personal tutor was also incredibly supportive throughout all of my treatment, it is definitely because of him that I was able to complete second year of university on time, and I am extremely grateful for his support.
How is your health and life now?
Due to the talent of my neurosurgeon I have only had a few side effects from my surgeries, and apart from a having a really cool scar on the side of my head, which you can’t really see anymore because my hair is growing back, I get to lead a really normal life. I managed to complete my university year at home without having to defer or take any time out and so I am back at university in the same year with all of my friends with the hope of graduating in the summer. My brain tumour could return at any time and so I have MRI scans every three months for the next fifteen years to keep check of this, but I don’t really mind this at all. I just want to try and live my life in the best way possible, because I know that I have been given a second chance, a privilege that a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to receive.
What made you choose this challenge?
Growing up my mum and dad used to be keen climbers and so I was brought up climbing lots of mountains and rocks faces. I know this was a big part of my parent’s life and so I really want to make them proud. However, it’s also a personal challenge for me. After my first brain surgery I became quite weak and wobbly and couldn’t really walk anywhere at all. In the first couple of weeks I could walk to the end of my road and back with my dad and around the supermarket but that was about it. To go from this to successfully walking up one of the most impressive mountains in the world will be a really big achievement for me. The fact that the charity is raising money for investment into cancer research is also really important to me, as research into cancer will hopefully save the lives of lots more people.
What made you support Worldwide Cancer Research?
I think the scariest thing about cancer is that anybody can get it at any point in their lives without any warning. It is an unfair and brutal disease that takes the lives of so many people. By supporting Worldwide Cancer Research, I hope the money that I raise will support research into cancer so that more people like me will be able to carry on their lives in as normal a way as possible. If you would like to donate to my fund, this is my page https://k16cardiff.everydayhero.com/uk/bethany-staley.