On 10th June 2020, I woke up in hospital following a surgery to remove a grade 1, non-cancerous brain tumour
A little bit about Karen
The tumour had remained undiagnosed, with my symptoms being put down to workplace stress. However, on June 2nd, my 18-year-old daughter found me collapsed on the floor at home after I missed a doctor’s appointment. An ambulance arrived as I went into cardiac arrest, flat-lining for ten minutes before they brought me back. Once at the hospital, I was given a brain scan to see if the lack of oxygen had caused any damage. It was then that they discovered the 6cm tumour located in my olfactory groove next to my left eye. I was immediately transferred to King College Hospital, South London and within 24 hours the bulk of the tumour had been removed.
The aftereffects of brain surgery
Waking up in Intensive Care several days later, not only did I have to contend with what had been making me ill, but I had no memory of the previous 8 months, a time where my life and the world had changed beyond recognition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a talented artist, the most devastating thing was that the tumour had severely damaged my eyesight.
I was unprepared for the initial side effects of brain surgery, experiencing horrifying hallucinations and paranoia, accusing some of the nursing staff of trying to kill me. Panic attacks resulted in me being restrained in bed for my own safety.
My recovery and additional COVID challenges
Over the next four weeks I relearnt how to do many of the activities we take for granted, walking, eating, washing… Because of the help I needed, and as visitors were not allowed due to COVID, I became very close to the nursing staff and I soon began using my skills as a HR manager to get them to buy me chocolate and to use their phones to facetime my family. It was during one of these calls that my brother broke the news that my partner of 10 years had left me. During my illness, my behavior had become so erratic and aggressive that he could no longer cope. I was never to see or speak to him again.
Returning home after the safety of the hospital, I found it difficult to adjust to my new situation.
I had regular carers for a short while to help me adjust, but the ongoing COVID lockdown meant I spent most of my time on my own. I missed my family and friends.
The only people I saw were during my regular hospital appointments or when a friend would drop my shopping around. My mental health began to spiral down and I questioned why I was still alive.
Returning to work
Exactly a year after surgery my financial situation dictated that I got back to work. I wasn’t sure whether I could return to the demands of a senior management role, so my manager agreed for me to return to a lower grade post. It was so lovely to be back at work in a job I loved. It lasted two and a half days before we all realized that I was still more than capable, and I returned to my previous job.
Before I became ill, I had taken part in a number of Triathlons. To help fill my days I bought a turbo trainer and got back on my bike in the safety of my front room. I signed up for a number of online challenges to raise money for charities, leading me to becoming an ambassador for Brain Tumour Research.
On 7th August 2022 I became the first para / visually impaired athlete, along with my guide, to complete the SunCity Triathlon (Sunderland, UK)
The event comprised of a 750m sea swim, 20km bike ride, and 5km run along the sea front.
What I have learnt
The two years following my surgery have been the most difficult of my life. I still have no memory of the missing 8 months. The people around me have told me some of what happened, and I am sorry for what I put them through, especially my daughter. Without her, without all my family and friends, I would not have got through.
My experience hasn’t changed me – I am still Karen. I have good days and bad days, but each one is a gift.
My favourite quote
‘I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul’