What I Know About... Living with a Brain Tumour

Lisa Connell, 31, chats about why her brain tumour doesn't stop her from living life fully
What I Know About... Living with a Brain Tumour
Lisa Connell

“I  remember the day I was diagnosed as if it was yesterday. It was August 2006 and I’d just returned home to the UK after a year of living in Thailand. I was 27 years old and my biggest worry was which parties to hit over the summer. Then everything changed.

I’d been having problems with my eyesight and hearing for years, but the doctors assured me it was nothing serious. However, that year my health got worse. I had awful mood swings, terrible headaches and double vision. I didn’t know it then, but a tumour on my brain was growing at an alarming rate.

I knew something serious was wrong so I booked an MRI scan. Three weeks later, I sat in the oncologist’s office, waiting for the results. “I’m sorry,” the doctor announced, “but you’ve got an inoperable brain tumour. It’s known as a Meningioma tumour and it can’t be removed.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Hysterically I staggered to the toilets and phoned my Dad. “I’m dying,” I yelled.

The doctors couldn’t tell me how much longer I had to live or how long the tumour had been there. I was simply told to go home and come back in six months. I remember thinking; how can I do that and just carry on with my life? I couldn’t. As the weeks passed, my symptoms escalated. I could barely see, and I suffered weeks of paralysis.

As well as the physical impact, emotionally I felt like a different person. Before the tumour I’d been a party animal, hitting night clubs four nights a week and always the last to leave the dance floor. Suddenly I was virtually house-bound. Then, two months after my diagnosis, I met a family friend who’d been diagnosed with the same condition 10 years earlier. He was up and about – and lived life to the full.

Inspired, I hit the gym five days a week and worked out with an instructor developing my balance and co-ordination. It was tough, but soon I was able to walk unassisted. I became so determined, I decided to take part in a 10km race, raising 17,000 for various brain tumour charities. At times I’d thought I’d never walk again, so crossing the finish line was a buzz. I was back in control of my life.

I try not to let my tumour affect me, although obviously some things have changed. I’ve lost friends because a lot of them couldn’t handle what I’d gone through. I’d always been the life and soul and suddenly all they saw was a sick girl.

While I’ve faced challenges, I’m lucky that I’ve been able to maintain my independence. I still live on my own and knowing I look after myself gives me a feeling of self worth.

And my situation hasn’t stopped the romance in my life. A couple of years ago I started a blog about my tumour and it became an overnight hit. I began receiving letters from male admirers asking me out, which I thought was hilarious, but then I had the idea of turning these advances into a fundraising scheme, with would-be suitors bidding online for a date with me. I then donated the money to charitable causes. It’s called Rent A Date For Charity (rentadateforcharity.com) and, since it started in 2008, I’ve been on about 20 dates and accepted bids from anything between Dhs25 and Dhs25,000. Some of the guys have wanted to see me again, but I haven’t felt enough chemistry to continue anything. It’s all just good fun.

On a day-to-day basis I keep things as normal as possible. I still go out with the girls, though not quite as often as I used to. Likewise, I still have a drink, but instead of downing shots, these days the most I can manage is a glass of wine.

Of course, I have down days. I know I’ll never have children, as pregnancy hormones would feed my tumour. This is something I’m patiently coming to terms with and each day it hurts a little less. Luckily I’ve got three god children, so I get to be all maternal with them, which helps.

The doctors still can’t say how long I’ve got to live, but I’ve made a pact with myself to concentrate on all the little things that make me happy. Walking my dogs and treating myself to a nice massage help get me through the tough times. Not knowing how long I have left has made me determined to live my life to the full, take every day as it comes, and to never look back.”

Have you got a real life story to share? Email us at vivamagazine@itp.com.

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