Brain Cancer

Bronwen Watson – Emotionally I felt out of character

April 1, 2024 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Bronwen Watson shares the lead-up and after-effects of having a craniotomy to remove a brain tumour.


You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies

Bronwen Watson (42) lives in Centurion, Gauteng with her fur babies.

Last year February, I awoke feeling strange. My vision was odd, and I felt a wave of nausea. As I stood up, my world started to move and I instantly fell to the floor. I put it down to overexertion from moving from JHB to Pretoria and work commitments.

A few weeks later, I had the same experience at work. I went to a GP and was treated for an infection and vertigo. However, it didn’t get better. For the next few months, I had several consultations with an ENT and underwent various treatments even though my symptoms worsened to blurry and tunnel vision, headaches, an inability to concentrate, nausea, short-term memory loss, and dropping things. It also felt like I was losing information.

Emotionally, I felt out of character. Everything that upset me was intensely exaggerated. My mother and partner bore the brunt of this, and to some extent my siblings and work colleagues.

The day my life changed forever

In June, I consulted with the ENT again. I hadn’t slept in weeks and was desperate. After he realised something was wrong with my central nervous system, he referred me to a neurologist and sent me for an MRI immediately. The scan revealed the source of it all, I had a brain tumour in the left frontal region.

Craniotomy

The craniotomy (surgery to remove the brain tumour) lasted three hours and the golf ball-sized mass was safely removed. I was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma that had low levels of malignancy. After a week in hospital, I was discharged, and my mom moved in for two months as I needed the care.

One-month post-op, I had the first follow-up MRI; things appeared normal. Consulting with a neuro-oncologist, the neurosurgeon determined that no further treatment was required (for now). Relief! Now I could continue the slow process of healing. The brain is an organ in the body that takes the longest to recover from injury. Now about nine months later, I’m still healing. Thankfully, my employer was supportive and allowed me all the time off that was recommended. If I didn’t have medical aid, I would never have afforded treatment, it came up to around half a million. I had co-payments but by comparison, it was small change.

Getting my affairs in order

I already had a life insurance plan with added benefits that have seen me through any subsequent financial strains, including severe illness, disability and income protection cover due to illness. I added a funeral plan and updated my will. It’s tough to put this together, but so necessary and gave me a great deal of comfort knowing my family could cope financially if the worst happened.

Six-monthly MRIs

In November 2023, an EEG picked up abnormal electrical activity in the temporal lobes of my brain, a different area to where the tumour, and now cavity, was. I still had lingering symptoms of fatigue, headaches, head itching, and muscle spasms. The doctor prescribed an anticonvulsant for the remainder of my life. I’ve increased dosages incrementally and now take 300mg a day, split in half every morning and evening. Symptoms are slowly improving. I’m on a six-month MRI scan cycle. If a new mass is picked up, radiation or chemotherapy will be the route of treatment.

Dealing with the diagnosis

I initially felt numb; leading up to surgery I was on autopilot. Instead of going for psychotherapy as everyone suggested, I did research. Knowledge calms me. I read every credible journal, clinical trial and medical information site I could find. Since I couldn’t find any local support groups, I began following others, predominantly in the UK and USA.

Incredible support

My mother, sister, partner and fur babies were incredible. I’ve had a few friends who’ve seemingly grown afraid of my company. There are no hard feelings; in fact, I understand. No one can possibly know what to expect of me now.

Regarding side effects, I tire easily; have regular tension headaches and sleep troubles; muscle jerks, the odd speech challenge and short-term memory lapses. However, none impact my ability to lead a healthy and normal life. I still live alone with my fur babies and can still work.

There are things that I can’t do as well or quickly enough but it simply seems wasteful and unimportant to focus on that. I’m trying to focus on things and people that give me great joy and purpose. There’s far more I can do today than what I can’t. That’s valuable and deserves more attention. So, that’s how I choose to live today. I’m embracing the great fortune afforded to me by all involved in my care, medically and beyond.

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cover 2024 BIG C Preparing for treatment