BANGOR FAMILY’S JOURNEY AFTER DEVASTATING DIAGNOSIS

A BANGOR woman, whose husband has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has spoken of the devastating moment she realised something was wrong. Helen Todd was preparing to go to bed in July 2017 when her husband David suddenly had a seizure and didn’t come round until the couple were in an ambulance on their way to hospital.

A round of tests and scans revealed that 42 year-old David, who had just started his own business, was suffering from an anapaestic oligodendroglioma brain tumour. Ten days later the tumour had doubled in size and surgeons at the Royal Victoria Hospital told the couple they would have to operate. They managed to remove 75% of the tumour, but for Helen (41) surgery had not only removed the tumour, it had taken David’s soul. In a bid to raise money for the charity Brain Tumour Research, Helen will be carrying out the Walk of Hope, a 10km walk along the North Down Coastal Path on Saturday.

In advance of the walk, which is also about raising awareness of the impacts of brain tumours, Helen has bravely spoken about the impact her husband’s illness has had upon the family. Helen first realised something was wrong when David had a seizure at home. Helen, mum to Josh, 14, said: “We were just about to go to bed when it happened.

David took 40 minutes to come around. When he did, he asked ‘what’s going on?’ because he was in an ambulance.  “Prior to this, his personality had changed significantly; he was usually very easy going but he became grumpy and got stressed out easily.”  David was taken to Ulster Hospital and had a CT scan and an MRI scan which revealed an ‘abnormality’ on his brain. Helen, a talent acquisition manager, said: “I just thought ‘OK, so how do we get rid of it?’ Looking back, I was so naïve because I had very little information about brain tumours. “The first time I heard the word cancer was when a Macmillan nurse sat on David’s bed.

She was mortified when she realised she had broken the most devastating news to us so casually in an open ward which afforded no privacy. It was awful.” Ten days later, David had another MRI scan which revealed the tumour had doubled in size, filling his left frontal lobe. On August 7, surgeons at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast removed three quarters of the tumour.  Helen said: “When David came out of surgery, he was no longer David. They took the tumour, but they also took David.

He was dead behind the eyes, like they had taken his soul.”  In December, David underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy but the aggressive treatments left him feeling exhausted and he lost weight due to a poor appetite. 

Two months prior to his diagnosis, David had fulfilled his dream of setting up his own business, a tile and bathroom showroom, but the effects of the tumour and the treatments forced him to close it after just two months.  Helen said: “David’s quality of life isn’t great. He has to use a wheelchair and he sleeps three hours every afternoon. He’s like an 18 stone toddler now and his life is just a series of hospital appointments.  “It’s really tough. Josh and I do all of David’s personal care, but what 14 year-old boy wants to have to wash their dad and change their compression stockings?” 

Helen has been working with Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness of the devastating disease and she has raised over £1,000 from different fundraising activities. During the coronavirus lockdown, she completed a virtual marathon, and in 2021 she took part in the charity’s Walk of Hope.  Now, Helen will take part in the 10km Walk of Hope on Saturday, September 24, to raise money for Brain Tumour Research.

She will be joined by her friend, Catherine Lowe, for the walk along the coastal path from Bangor to Ballyholme. Helen said: “It gives me a reason to keep going, and I want to share my experience to help others.  “If I didn’t have the hope and belief that that there will be better treatments and a cure for those coming behind us, then I would just be sitting miserable, doing nothing.” 

Matthew Price, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research said it is only with the support of people like Helen that the charity is able to progress research into brain tumours and improve the outcome for patients like David. “Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet, historically, just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

It is only by working together that we will be able to improve treatment options for patients and, ultimately, find a cure.  “I would encourage anyone who is able to take on a Walk of Hope to do so. Not only are they great social events in the outdoors but they are a great way to fundraise and support the work we do.” Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure.

The charity is the driving force behind the call for a national annual spend of £35m in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

 

To donate to Helenʼs JustGiving page, visit: justgiving.com/fundraising/HelenTodd20

To register to take part in a Walk of Hope, visit: braintumourresearch.org/fundraise /walk-of-hope