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If only brain tumour research could be funded in the same way as leukaemia and other cancers

Cat Anderson – In Hope

In August 2014, a CT scan revealed that Cat, aged 36, had aCat Anderson brain tumour.  A follow-up MRI scan led medics to think it was benign and that it could be completely removed, however, following surgery and a biopsy the devastating news came back that the tumour was in fact cancerous, although slow-growing.  Cat’s family and friends all rallied round to help and to fundraise, resulting in the setting up of a fundraising group called Cat in a Hat.

“Despite my nursing background, I, along with so many of Cat’s friends and family members, was shocked to find that that just 1% of the national spend on cancer research is allocated to brain tumours, yet it is the biggest cancer killer of the under 40s.  We are all doing our bit to make a real difference and hope that more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for brain tumours can be found… And soon.”

Here is Cat’s story as told by her father, Rab…

It was back in June 2014 that Cat started consistently complaining about having headaches and feeling tired, but none of us was unduly concerned.  We put it down to Cat being quite sporty – running and going to the gym – and just thought she was over-doing things a bit.

Early the following month, we were getting ready to go to a family wedding back in Glasgow (where Cat was born and still has lots of family) when Cat started feeling “sea-sick” and dizzy. She was diagnosed with labyrinthitis – some days she felt fine and other days not.

Then one day Cat had a mini-seizure in the car – fortunately she wasn’t driving.  Her partner, James, took her straight to A&E, but she was sent home having been told it was due to a migraine.

Ironically, Cat was worried she might have a brain tumour, but I didn’t think this to be the case, even though I work as a nurse.  I was, however, quite insistent that Cat should seek further clarification about her diagnosis.  I suggested she went back to the GP, which she did, and he made a referral to an ENT consultant.

An appointment was arranged with an ENT consultant at the private hospital where I work.  Cat was asked to do a variety of physical tests and although the consultant wasn’t too concerned, her inability to do some of these satisfactorily motivated him to organise a CT scan just to make sure.

Following the scan, Cat was asked to come back into the hospital.  I was at work that morning and was able to join her.  It was the 18th of August – the day before her birthday.  The consultant said: “I am really sorry, but we have some very bad news.”

Cat didn’t want to hear it.  She just shut down.  The scan report said there was a tumour and it was suggested that it might be metastatic. Cat had previously found lumps in her breast which she had been told were harmless, but now her mum and I began to wonder.

We were sent to Addenbrooke’s Hospital so that Cat could have an MRI scan and the results came back quickly.  Cat was in a state of shock and kept saying: “Talk to my dad.”  James and I were told by a specialist nurse that the tumour didn’t have any blood supply and didn’t look cancerous.  They were optimistic that they could remove all the tumour – it all seemed more hopeful than we had previously been led to believe.

Surgery was booked for the following week.  Poor Cat, who had always been frightened even of needles, was forced to toughen up.

After around six hours or so in the operating theatre, one of the team told us that they had managed to completely remove the tumour.  Cat was still in a daze, but I was thinking: “Hang on a minute – don’t get too excited.”

The results of the biopsy brought us crashing back down.  The tumour was malignant… cancerous… They hadn’t been able to get it all out either.  The only good news was that it was slow-growing.

Cat came home, but didn’t get on as well as was hoped.  She was putting a brave face on things, but James could see that she wasn’t good and also noticed that her memory had deteriorated.

When he noticed pus coming from her wound, she had to go back into hospital as it was realised that she suffering with an infection.  They put in a drain and took a bone flap out of her skull.

After that, Cat was back and forth to Addenbrooke’s on a strong dose of antibiotics and needing to have regular blood tests.  James was often having to call the hospital with concerns over Cat’s welfare.

Her medical team were unhappy with the results of a further scan and decided in early December that Cat should have more surgery.  It was then that we were given the devastating news that the tumour had progressed to being grade 4 (from grade 2).  They couldn’t explain why it had changed so quickly but told us they had even re-checked the initial biopsy. They insisted there had been no mistake.

We tried to make Christmas as good as we could.  Cat was brilliant – so brave and positive, which made it so much easier.  She decided we should have a silly Christmas jumper theme and so, along with our other daughters and their families we all donned our seasonal sweaters for the day and had a good laugh.

Cat had already decided that she didn’t want her condition to dictate our lives even though she had been told that she would be having radiotherapy and chemo for six weeks on a daily basis.

She went to my local barber and asked him to cut off her hair back to a short crop as she thought that it would be easier than finding that her shoulder-length hair was coming out in clumps.  From then on she started wearing hats and has gathered quite a collection having had many donated to her by kind-hearted family and friends.

It also led to my brother, Sam, and one of Cat’s sisters having an idea to set up a support page on Facebook called “Hats for Cat” as a way of updating people with the latest news of Cat’s treatment.  One of my grandsons then suggested the name “Cat in a Hat”. The page was particularly helpful for our family in Scotland and meant we didn’t have to keep on answering questions about Cat’s health all the time.  People could easily find out the latest developments.

We had so many people wanting to help – including offers to help pay the expenses  of our daily trips to Addenbrooke’s, as well as morale boosters like my niece, Charlene doing a head-shave, along with my 11-year-old granddaughter Safie, and Charlene’s husband, Robert, who had his chest and legs waxed.  In the end it turned into a big fundraising event which raised around £4,000, including match-funding of £1,000 from Robert’s company British American Tobacco.  Cat’s 16-year-old cousin Shannon also had her head shaved a week later, raising several hundred pounds herself.

A family friend, Laura Brown, held a family fun day at Wicksteed Park in Kettering with monster trucks, characters from the film Frozen, stalls, musicians, candy-floss, beat the goalie and a treasure hunt all of which helped to raise well over £1,000.

Also, further funds were raised when a local fitness trainer, Jason Strachan, took a group of his students, which included Cat’s 16-year-old son Robert, round a 10k assault course called “The Suffering” at Rockingham Castle.

By the time that friends of the family had held an Open Mic Night at one of our local pubs and Cat’s best friend, Tara had completed a 10K sponsored walk with a group of friends and supporters, we decided that it was time to organise ourselves more formally into an official fundraising group called appropriately Cat in a Hat raising funds for pioneering UK charity, Brain Tumour Research.

Despite my nursing background, I, along with so many of Cat’s friends and family members, was shocked to find that that just 1% of the national spend on cancer research is allocated to brain tumours, yet it is the biggest cancer killer of the under 40s.  We are all doing our bit to make a real difference and hope that more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for brain tumours can be found… And soon.


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