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Mum ‘broke down’ after routine eye test led to devastating discovery

A mum has spoken of her horror after a routine eye check-up led to a brain tumour diagnosis.

According to Leeds Live, Sarah Cardwell, from Horsforth, attended an opticians appointment in November 2018 which led to the mum-of-two being hospitalised after doctors discovered a brain tumour on her optic nerve.

The 46-year-old, who is a communications officer for charity Brain Tumour Research, is speaking out about her horrifying ordeal as a part of National Eye Health Awareness Week.

Sarah, who works at Leeds Beckett University, said: “I was at work, in summer 2018, when I first noticed my vision was blurred and I thought I probably needed new prescription glasses.

“I only wore glasses for driving at the time. I kept telling myself to make an optician’s appointment but with a busy job and two young daughters, life got in the way and I kept putting it off.”

Finally, in November that year, Sarah booked an appointment at Specsavers in Guiseley.

“The optometrist did a series of tests and then tried to see if my sight was improved with various different strengths of corrective lenses,” Sarah said.

“With each different lens she tried, there was no change. “

Sarah with Lucy and Ellie in Keswick
Sarah with Lucy and Ellie in Keswick

Sarah was then told she was being referred to eye casualty at the hospital.

Accompanied by her husband, Sarah went to the hospital the same day, where an ophthalmologist took a photo of the back of her eye and carried out a colour-blindness test.

Sarah, who is mum to Lucy, 10 and Ellie, seven, said: “I didn’t get a single one right. He then asked lots of questions about whether I got tired easily and whether I had noticed any other unusual symptoms.

“When I thought about it, I had been prescribed iron tablets for anaemia and had also suffered some sickness and dizziness.

“I had also been to the doctors with severe headaches but I thought they were probably due to being tired and over-stretched with a busy work and home life.”

Sarah was referred for an MRI scan that took place on 8 December 2018.

The scan revealed a ‘cyst’ on her brain and she was asked to go back the following day for another MRI.

The following week, Sarah met a neurosurgeon who said he thought the mass was a craniopharyngioma, sitting on her optic nerve.

Sarah in Valley Gardens, Harrogate with (l-r) Lucy (10), Milo the dog, and Ellie (7).
Sarah in Valley Gardens, Harrogate with (l-r) Lucy (10), Milo the dog, and Ellie (7).

Sarah was advised that the surgeon wanted to operate the following day.

She then had to break the news to her children that they wouldn’t see their mummy for the next couple of days, as she was going into hospital to fix ‘a problem with her eye’.

Sarah said: “Luckily, they weren’t fazed at all. I, on the other hand, broke down.

“The thought of possibly not seeing them again was just too much. I didn’t want to go to bed that night and I think I only managed about one hour’s sleep.”

The operation lasted five hours and they went in through the sinus, meaning it was less invasive than conventional brain surgery.

She was discharged on 22 December, in time to spend Christmas with her family.

Sarah said: “The results of my first post-op MRI scan were in February and showed that things were stable.

“My next routine scan was due in December 2019. However, in June, fate stepped in and I woke up one weekend with a tingling sensation in my eye. It felt all too familiar. Deep down I knew the tumour was back but I didn’t want to believe it.”

Devastatingly, Sarah’s instinct was right and doctors confirmed she’d suffered a relapse of her tumour. On 23 July 2019, she underwent a second brain surgery to treat the regrowth.

Sarah said: “The operation seemed to go well and once again I stayed in hospital for five nights. This time, however, after being discharged from hospital, I suffered a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak and I contracted meningitis.

“I had to be re-admitted and have two further surgeries to fix the leak, which was a really gruelling experience.”

Sarah is now having annual MRI scans and her tumour remains stable. In September 2020, she and her family took part in the Brain Tumour Research Walk of Hope, raising nearly £700 for the charity.

Now, Sarah is sharing her brain tumour experience, to help encourage people to be aware of their eye health and to get checked up if something seems wrong.

She said: “I put off going to the optician for ages. Now, I’m much more aware that a problem with your eyesight might be an indication of something serious.

“With hindsight, I wish I’d gone to Specsavers sooner. I’ve no doubt that that routine check-up saved my life.

“After my surgery, I went back to the optician with a card and flowers, to say thank you for my quick referral to hospital. Even though it was scary at the time, without my urgent appointment, my brain tumour diagnosis may have come too late and the consequences don’t bear thinking about.”

National Eye Health Awareness week takes place from 20 to 26 September and aims to inspire and educate people on the importance of eye health and why they should go for regular sight tests.

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.




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