Diagnosed with a brain tumour while backpacking in southeast Asia

Jenny shares her story of diagnosis while travelling, surgery, and referral to The Royal Marsden, where she benefitted from radiotherapy on the Charity-funded Cedar Linac machine.

Jenny was just 23 years old when she started getting some troubling symptoms while abroad. 

“In September 2022 I was travelling around southeast Asia. I had a couple of seizures on separate occasions while I was away. I had also been suffering from déjà vu-like symptoms for around three years prior to this, which I later found out were partial seizures."

“The first full seizure I had was when I was in north of Bali, where they didn’t have any large hospitals. I ended up in a local hospital where they ran some blood tests and told me I had salmonella, and this is what caused the seizure."

“The second seizure happened in Vietnam in a place where, luckily, there was a brand-new hospital nearby with an excellent scanning department. I had an MRI scan, and they found a tumour in my brain, on my left temporal lobe. I ended up staying at the hospital in intensive care for a few nights after these results. I was so confused about what was going on, thankfully I was with a friend the whole time who was really great and supportive.” 

Four women on holiday, standing together under a pretty orange sunset with palm trees in the background
Royal Marsden patient Jenny (on the far right)

Surgery back in the UK 

“I didn’t know the extent of my diagnosis and how severe it was until I came back to the UK. I flew back from Vietnam and saw a surgeon who diagnosed me with a fast-growing astrocytoma – a type of brain tumour that starts from a cell in the cerebrum. They were unable to give me a precise diagnosis without surgery and a biopsy of the tumour."

“I had my surgery in February 2023. They were able to remove 99% of the tumour in surgery, but I found out from the biopsy results that it was grade 3, which means the cancer cells may grow or spread more aggressively. The surgeon told me that I likely had this tumour for the past 10 years without knowing, but it was lying dormant. That was when I was referred to The Royal Marsden for further treatment.” 

Radiotherapy on the Cedar Linac at The Royal Marsden 

“I came to The Royal Marsden and was put under the care of Dr Liam Welsh. Liam and his team told me the plan would be to have radiotherapy for three months and then chemotherapy."

“After I had my surgery I couldn’t work for a while, so coming into the hospital was a nice way to see people and get out of the house. The team at The Royal Marsden are all so nice, they made the experience a positive one for me and they were always happy to be there."

a person lying on a table in a hospital room, with a mask over her face and head. She's smiling and giving a peace sign
Jenny receiving radiotherapy

“I had my radiotherapy on the Cedar Linac – this is a machine that can scan you at the same time as delivering your treatment session. It was so beneficial for me because the treatment was targeting my head, and it was important that the radiation didn’t hit my optic nerve and harm this part of my brain. During my first treatment session, the team were able to tailor the radiation based on the Linac scan results to ensure my optic nerve remained untouched."

"The treatment sessions were sometimes only 10-15 minutes long, and it felt easy and painless. I had about 32 sessions of radiotherapy treatment, Monday to Friday for six weeks."

“I’m so glad to have had access to the Cedar Linac machine and knowing now that it’s been funded by supporters of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity makes me feel very grateful to everyone who has donated. If there hadn’t have been the means to scan my head whilst having treatment, the radiation could have been hitting my optic nerve which could have led to me losing my sight. Instead, I barely had any side effects."

“The staff at The Royal Marsden always go above and beyond in making sure you’re safe and comfortable. You don’t just feel like a patient number, they treat you like you’re the only patient in their care.” 

“Try and see the positives wherever you can” 

“I’ve now finished the radiotherapy and will be on chemotherapy in tablet form for 12 cycles until April 2024. I normally have an MRI scan every month but my recent scans were so good, they were showing hardly any signs of active cancer in the tumour at all. So I now only need scans every three months. This is really great news and so reassuring."

“I hope that by sharing my story I can help to raise awareness and support other people who are going through a similar experience. Even just knowing what symptoms to look out for is so important."

Young woman smartly dressed in a brown dress and handbag, smiling outside in a garden

“For other people going through a cancer diagnosis, I would say don’t let this define your whole life. Walking and exercise also really helped me, this was a great distraction, especially during radiotherapy."

“Try and see the positives wherever you can – I took everything in my stride and went with the flow.” 


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