Brain tumour surgery at 19 pushed Beth to climb Kilimanjaro and raise thousands
Being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour is a tough blow for anyone to handle but one 19-year-old university student decided to turn her experience into something positive and climb Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Worldwide Cancer Research.
Beth Staley, now 23, was two years into her Human Geography degree at Cardiff University when a trip to the opticians changed her life as she knew it.
"I had always suffered from headaches but because my dad used to get migraines a lot, we all just assumed that's what it was," she says. "I went back and forth to the GP about a pins and needles sensation that kept coming and going down my left side, but I was told it was a trapped nerve. It was only when I started getting double vision and went to the opticians to see if I needed glasses, that they could see something was wrong.
"The optician noticed a hemorrhage on the optic nerve in my right eye which was caused by the pressure of my swollen brain. I was sent to eye casualty and the doctors did an MRI head scan and found the tumour. It was Christmas Eve when I discovered I had a brain tumour."
Although doctors first thought Beth's tumour was benign, she still needed to be operated on immediately. "When I first found out, we didn't know if the tumour was cancerous or not but after the first surgery I was officially diagnosed with a Malignant Grade Three Ependymoma. It was a really scary time.”
And for the brain surgery itself, at only 19, Beth was quite possibly one of the youngest people to ever experience awake surgery to successfully remove her tumour. "In order to properly monitor my brain activity, I was given the option of awake surgery which was one of the most surreal moments of my life," she says. "It took eight hours but I found it fascinating and the doctors were amazing. I actually watched the Harry Potter films to pass the time!”
Awake surgery is a relatively new procedure brought on thanks to developments in the medical field and patients are usually given the choice. For Beth, it turned out to be the right decision. “Research made the procedure safer for me,” she says. “The benefits of awake surgery are that the neurosurgeon can check vital signs while operating that helps them get 100% of the tumour out successfully. I was treated in Oxford and there was only one neurosurgeon in the area who could perform this surgery. I didn’t have any after effects from the surgery which is impressive considering they removed part of my brain!”
Beth went on to have three further surgeries throughout the year and her tumour was completely removed. To help prevent it from returning, she had seven weeks of daily radiotherapy and had her first completely clear cancer-free scan in December 2015 – almost a year to the day that she was first diagnosed.
“It was the best day ever,” says Beth. “What an amazing Christmas present.”
Being cancer free, Beth was able to return to her studies at Cardiff University where she did notice a few differences. “For the first couple of months I was very weak,” she says. “I really noticed how tired I was when I went back to university and could only walk short distances but I was high on life having beaten cancer!”
Despite still healing from her gruelling surgeries, Beth decided that she wanted to help future cancer sufferers and raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research to help scientists find treatments and cures for the 200 types of cancer in the world today.
“I found a group at uni who were climbing Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Worldwide Cancer Research,” she says. “It seemed perfect because I wanted to accomplish something for myself and prove that I was ok and that the cancer did not define me. If I was going to raise money for charity, Worldwide Cancer Research was the ideal choice. Having seen the cutting edge research in the hospital and the difference it can make, I knew I wanted to raise money to help fund this research and help more people.”
In the summer of 2016, when she was 21 years old, Beth and a group of 19 other Cardiff University students climbed the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Beth raised an incredible £4,401 for Worldwide Cancer Research.
"Out of our group, I was the only one to have had cancer myself," Beth says. "I had to check with my neurosurgeon and parents before I took part but I was delighted to complete it with everyone else. I did struggle a bit but my altitude sickness was minimal because I drank so much water. I was monitored on the climb because I am susceptible to sickness and brain swelling because of my surgeries but thankfully I was ok. To go from hardly being able to walk to successfully walking up one of the most impressive mountains in the world was a huge achievement for me."
After raising this incredible amount of money for a charity close to her heart, Beth will continue to help people who are going through what she went through. "I would love to do another climb and raise more money for Worldwide Cancer Research," she says.
"My parents are keen mountaineers so I have definitely got the climbing bug! I'm about to do a masters and want to become a wildlife documentary filmmaker but as soon as I am settled at university again, I plan to do something else. My neurosurgeon keeps in touch and often puts me in contact with people who are about to go through the surgeries that I went through so I can talk them through it and give them some support.
"For as long as I can, I want to help raise money to find cures and treatments and support people who are suffering from cancer."
Beth is a true inspiration and we're so proud to have her as part of Team Worldwide. If you fancy a challenge of a lifetime, what we have to offer. We'll provide you with all the support you need!