(For treatment side effects and complications only)
Posted 29th March 2023
She noticed weakness of her arms and legs and then one night she found that she couldn’t get out of the bath. “My arms and legs felt so heavy and weak and I had this overwhelming sense of tiredness,” Anne recalls.
She went to her GP and was sent for blood tests but before the results had even come back, Anne, then aged 72, had become so poorly that her husband John, a retired doctor, took her to Aintree Hospital’s medical assessment department.
She told the doctors there about her symptoms including the unusual weakness in her arms and legs and they sent her for tests including CT and MRI scans and admitted her to a ward.
“That was in November 2021,” says Anne, who lives in Wirral, “and within a couple of days I had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma.”
Glioblastomas are the most common form of brain cancer in adults and are often quite fast-growing and aggressive.
“Obviously it was devastating,” she says quietly. “I knew the outcome because as a district nurse you are often working on the palliative side of nursing and you know how the illness is going to progress. I think it was harder for the family, though. I was almost so exhausted that I didn’t care. It was worse for my husband, John, and our two children but they have been a great support through all this and so have my friends.”
After a five-hour operation at The Walton Centre, Anne was referred to The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool for further treatment – 15 days of radiotherapy following a year of chemotherapy.
“I didn’t know what to expect at first,” she says. “The radiotherapy was every day Monday to Friday for three weeks and because they were targeting a tumour in my brain I had to wear a mask during it to keep my head in position. It was a bit weird at first and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe but of course you can and you get used to it.
“The radiotherapy was quite tough, though. I had bad headaches and was on steroids because of that. After the 15th treatment I had a gap for a few weeks and then began my chemotherapy.”
Anne’s chemotherapy all came as tablets which meant she was able to take it herself at home rather than having to come to hospital. “It was very convenient,” she says. “The treatment was a five-day course of tablets every 28 days for 12 months.
“I had to have blood tests before each course of chemotherapy but I could have them in my local hospital. Then every four weeks I’d come to The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool on the Friday to be reviewed and to collect my tablets, and I would start taking my next course of treatment on the Saturday.”
Anne finished her 12 months of chemotherapy in February 2023 and her latest scan showed that the treatment has been working. Although her glioblastoma will never be cured, the combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy has eased her symptoms and is currently keeping the cancer under control. She is starting to feel less breathless and tired as the side-effects from chemotherapy wear off.
Now Anne is looking forward to enjoying time with her family and friends, planning some short breaks away and getting back to the hobbies she loves including gardening, knitting and sewing.
She says: “When I was diagnosed back in November 2021, I didn’t think I would still be here today,” she says. “People often only live for a few months after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma but it’s been well over a year now and I’m feeling okay.
“For anyone else who has just been diagnosed or is going through this, I’d want them to know it’s not as scary as you think. The staff at Clatterbridge have been great. There is a number I can call if I ever need anything or have any queries and they have helped with lots of practical things – like sorting out a Blue Badge for me – as well as my cancer treatment.”
Anne will continue having regular scans and reviews with her oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to monitor her glioblastoma and advise on any further treatment if needed.
Dr Shaveta Mehta, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, said: “Glioblastomas are aggressive brain cancers which tend to grow quickly and more difficult to treat than many other cancers. Symptoms of gliomas vary depending on whereabouts in the brain the tumour is located.
“Unfortunately, outcomes tend to be poorer in people who are above 70 years when diagnosed due to multiple factors including their general fitness levels, comorbidities and tolerance of treatment. However, for fit elderly patients, optimal cancer treatment with the right support and monitoring does help in controlling cancer and delaying progression.
“We are very grateful to Anne for sharing her experience and raising awareness of glioblastomas and I am delighted that she is now enjoying her hobbies and time with her family after her treatment.”
The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is a Tessa Jowell Centre of Excellence in the treatment of people with brain tumours in partnership with The Walton Centre and North Wales Cancer Centre. Its neuro-oncology team works closely with colleagues in other hospitals to ensure patients receive the highest-quality of care at every stage of their care.
March is Brain Tumour Awareness Month. Symptoms of brain tumours including glioblastomas vary depending on where the tumour is located but can include:
Source: NHS.uk and Brain Tumour Charity