A nurse is backing a brain tumour awareness campaign after recognising her own symptoms on a poster at the hospital where she works.
Chantal Smits was diagnosed with the disease following months of symptoms that she had put down to work-related tiredness.
The penny dropped when she saw a poster for The Brain Tumour Charity’s HeadSmart campaign at her hospital, St George’s in Tooting, listing the signs and symptoms of brain tumours in young people and children.
The 21-year-old from Wandsworth realised that all of her symptoms were consistent with a brain tumour.
After speaking with her GP, she was sent for non-urgent blood tests and an MRI scan.
Chantal was the first to see the resulting MRI report on her GP Mobile App and diagnosed her own brain tumour.
Chantal, pictured above with boyfriend Ryan, said: “I started noticing minor symptoms during my first year at university.
“I was getting headaches and I was tired all the time – I used to fall asleep at 8pm straight after my shift.
“However, I put this down to the fact that I was working 40 hours a week and writing essays all weekend.
“Taking painkillers seemed to help and I didn’t think things were bad enough for me to go to see a doctor.”
Her symptoms became more acute at the beginning of 2018, when she began a new role in neurosurgery at St George’s.
“I was getting a headache every day and they were getting more inconsistent,” she said. “I was taking four ibuprofen and four paracetamol a day to manage the pain.
“One day while taking the bus home I started to get an odd sensation on one side of my face – it felt like rain was falling down the side of my face.
“But I still didn’t tell anyone about my symptoms – when I compared myself to my patients I thought I would be ignored.”
She took action only after spotting the HeadSmart poster at the hospital.
“I realised I had headaches, fatigue and was experiencing visual impairments which were some of the main symptoms of a brain tumour.
“So I went to see my GP and I told him everything including that I had a bad gut instinct about this, and I asked for an MRI scan.
“I opened the scan results myself at work back in January-expecting nothing- and broke down in tears as I realised I had a brain tumour.
“I felt hopeless and overwhelmed by emotion.
“I went upstairs to see the neurosurgeon. I was allocated a clinical nurse specialist straight away at St George’s and I now have scans every three to six months.
“The most recent shows the tumour is stable and my next scan is November.
“I keep thinking to myself, if I waited any longer this could have been a very different situation. I am so lucky to work in a department where the HeadSmart posters caught my eye.”
Chantal is currently receiving medication to manage her symptoms and is on a ‘watch and wait’ policy regarding future treatment.
She is determined to raise awareness of brain tumours and is supporting the HeadSmart campaign, run by The Brain Tumour Charity in partnership with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Nottingham University’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre.
Since HeadSmart began, the average diagnosis time for children with brain tumours in the UK has fallen from 13 weeks to just 6.5 weeks. It aims to reduce diagnosis times to below four weeks.
Chantal said: “I had symptoms for a long time and I should not have ignored them.
“By supporting the HeadSmart campaign I hope that I can help to raise awareness for brain tumours and do something positive to help others.
“Every day I work with people living with brain tumours and I feel like I can really empathise with them and I hope it helps patients to talk and relate to me on a much more personal level.
“I am hoping starting a supporters group at St George’s Hospital and have put lots more HeadSmart posters around the hospital.”
Sarah Lindsell, chief executive of The Brain Tumour Charity said: “We are incredibly grateful to Chantal for sharing her story to help us raise vital awareness about brain tumour symptoms in young adults.
“HeadSmart has two aims: to save lives and reduce long-term disability by bringing down diagnosis times.
“A key part of that is to make sure healthcare professionals and young people themselves are aware of the warning signs of a brain tumour in this age group.
“In some cases, a delay to diagnosis can even mean the difference between life and death.”
Find out more about brain tumours, their symptoms, the research we fund, and how we can help:https://www.headsmart.org.uk/