GPs diagnosed migraines for brain tumour childBy Amy Taylor
December 17, 2012
CONFUSING the symptoms of a brain tumour with those of a migraine is a common but potentially lethal error.
The Brain Tumour Charity, launched in 1996, was created in response to the devastating effects of such a mistake, when the family of Samantha Dickson lost their 16-year-old to terminal cancer. For months before her diagnosis in 1994, Samantha and her parents – charity founders Neil and Angela – were told by doctors that her constant headaches were caused by migraines, brought on by the pressures of being a busy teenager.
By the time her tumour was diagnosed, she had less than three years left to live.
The fourth week of the News & Mail's Christmas appeal to raise funds for The Barin Tumour Charity is focusing on the problems of diagnosis.
Sharon Greenway, from Hook, remembers all too vividly the confusion surrounding her son's illness. Alex was finally diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010, after months of hearing the word ‘migraine’ from GPs.
“I was having lots of headaches in 2010 and the doctor originally thought it was migraines,” said Alex, now 12. “Eventually I was referred to the hospital. They did their own test and said that it was migraines as well.”
He was sent back and forth to doctors, until finally being sent for an MRI scan in October 2010, when a tumour the size of a satsuma was found.
“I will always remember that day,” said Sharon. “I don’t know how I drove home really, I don’t remember it. I was just dazed and shocked. There is no way to describe the fear that you have when you hear something like that about your child.
“Then I took a moment and realised that this was something that you have to deal with. It has happened and we will have to face it head on.
“What was very scary was the fact that I didn’t know anything about it. Then when I met people at the Brain Tumour Charity and spoke to them about the cancer I realised how many parents out there might be missing the signs.”
Alex’s tumour had been growing undetected for three years by the time he went under the knife for life-saving surgery.
“I didn’t really understand it at first and it was weird to think that there was something growing in there,” he said. “It was frightening when I realised that I would have to have an operation and they would have to cut it out. I didn’t know what would happen and I was scared.”
Now, two years on, Alex is tumour and cancer-free, the only sign of his trauma a scar on his head and the MRI scans as proof of the growth in his brain.
“I had never felt that feeling in my head before and it was strange to think of my head being opened up, so I’m not surprised it hurt,” he said. “I have some problems with balance sometimes but I am much better. It was because they had to operate on that part of my brain.
“We found out one of the early symptoms can be being cross eyed, which I was when I was four.”
Now back at Robert May’s School in Odiham, Alex is enjoying getting back into playing bad-minton, though rugby is strictly off-limits.
He will go for an MRI scan every year until he is in his 20s, but his story is a much happier one than many. Sharon admits that despite the long waits and the fear of not having the answers, the family has been very lucky with the result.
“We still don’t know why he developed it – that’s important. That’s what this research can help with as well,” she added.
“As a parent you ask, ‘was it me?’ ‘Could I have done anything?’ With more research we can stop these questions in the future. It’s unbelievably important for families to know the signs. It’s not a likely thing, but parents should be aware.
“We were lucky, but some parents and children won’t be.”