Andy Stammers

4 min read

Father-of-three Andy from Somerset was expected to survive only two years after he was diagnosed with a grade 3 astrocytic tumour in 2011. More than a decade later, and living from scan to scan, he celebrates his 50th birthday in 2024; a milestone the former Baptist Minister and now factory worker never thought he would get to see after undergoing invasive surgery and six weeks of radiotherapy. As he takes on a series of challenges to mark a momentous occasion, Andy wants to highlight his journey so far.


Andy tells his story…

Doctors didn’t expect me to live beyond two years after I was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011. I never imagined I would be where I am today, more than a decade later having witnessed my girls grow into inspiring young women and me about to celebrate my 50th birthday.

Before my diagnosis, I travelled the world as a Merchant Navy deck officer and being fit and healthy was a requirement of the job – I had yearly medicals and looked after myself. After being at sea for many years, I took a job as a general manager of a large marine company and started to get involved with the local church, eventually moving to Radstock in 2009, to be minister at the Baptist Church. Life was good, I had my family and a new vocation; we were excited to be starting a new chapter in our lives.

In March 2011 I was helping my brother-in-law clear out some rubbish from a relative’s house. It was an energetic day and on the surface it seemed I was well and full of energy. I went to bed that evening as normal, but next thing I knew I woke up - covered in blood because I’d bitten my tongue - paramedics leaning over me. I thought they were burglars! My wife had called an ambulance after my seizure started. We were taken to Bath Royal Hospital’s A&E by ambulance in the early hours of Sunday morning. 

Initially the A&E team thought I’d had a stroke. I knew from my naval medical training that one of the tests for a stroke is looking at co-ordination, and mine was fine. I had a feeling it wasn’t a stroke and eventually this proved to be the case. A CT scan and subsequent MRI showed a large black shape and shadow on my brain, which was then diagnosed as a tennis ball sized tumour. The doctors were mystified why I hadn’t had any previous symptoms. 

The next few weeks were awful. I’d never heard of a brain tumour and I started looking on the internet and self-diagnosing.

“The uncertainty was terrifying and my imagination went into overdrive, thinking through lots of scenarios.”

I was being treated by Frenchay Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust in Bristol where the registrar explained the tumour was very close to my speech and understanding sensors.

They did many scans and built up a digital 3D model of the tumour so they could understand its location in my brain. Then they recommended they operate with a local anaesthetic, so I could talk to them as they operated. This was a terrifying prospect but slightly made better by my understanding that there are no pain sensors in your brain – because no one is supposed to be in there! They were hopeful that, given the size of the tumour, the indications were that it was slow growing and that they would be able to remove it all successfully.

My operation was on 16th May, 2011. I was terrified. Friends and family came to the hospital and prayed throughout the five hours it took.

As I was awake I have strong memories of the operation including sounds around me. They told me I was going to be very scared and to swear and shout and do what I needed to do to get through it. As a minister I couldn’t very well swear, could I?  But I said the Lord’s Prayer over and over again. The more frightened I was, the faster I said it.

The next part of the operation was medically extraordinary to experience. I was asked to name pictures of things and spell words, and as soon as I made a mistake they knew they were getting too close to my speech and understanding sensors. I remember it well – I spelt rabbit with one ‘b’ – then they paused, readjusted what they were doing and then carried on.

“After a very short spell in intensive care and three days on a ward, I went home, having made a speedy recovery in a short space of time.”

Before I went in for surgery, I was adamant that I wanted to be home and well enough in time to conduct my first wedding of a young couple I knew in the village. The reality was that I was well enough to even make the rehearsal, with my new six-inch scar, surprising everyone.

However, this was not the end of the rollercoaster. Ten days later, we were given the devastating news that the tumour was aggressive and not low grade and would likely grow back in one to two years. The bluntness of the outcome was brutal, a grade 3, astrocytic (astro – means star shape) tumour in my front lobe.

There were discussions of treatment post-surgery and I had six weeks of radiotherapy after which I was placed on life-long anti-seizure medication.

I used to live my life in 12-week periods. Visiting the consultant to get the results of my regular scans. He used to start the appointment by asking how I felt to which I would reply, well you are going to tell me how I feel. Every meeting after became more transactional with a passing of information, greeting me first with the findings of my scan and I then carried on with my life. For a while the whole family diary was arranged around my scans – we didn’t plan much or beyond three-month blocks. I became quite depressed and took up the opportunity for counselling.

As I lived beyond the expected two-year prognosis doctors were baffled. Each stable scan allowed me to slowly reclaim my life.

One day, while my wife, Suzanne and I were in a café, waiting for my scan results, I overheard someone saying they were running the marathon. And I thought: “that’s it, we need something to look forward to and rally round”. This inspired the first of what has now become an annual challenge. An opportunity to do something that will test me physically and mentally. These have included 100-mile walks across the country and a non-stop cycle from Weston Super Mare to Essex.

It was dark humour; putting a date that was beyond the expectation of living. However, it gave me a focus and became a positive way for me to spend my time, working towards each challenge.

Apart from taking a couple of pills daily, my side effects are manageable. I get fatigued and overstimulated when there are lots of things happening at once which makes me prone to stress and anxiety.

My biggest fear was thinking that I would never get to see my three girls grow up. They were 11, eight and two at the time. Now the older two are in their twenties, I’ve watched Gracie graduate, seen Tamzin follow her dream career and seen Anwyn start school and explore her creativity as a young artist.

Of course the last decade has come with its challenges, but watching them develop their own personalities, I am an incredibly proud father.

In June 2024, I will celebrate my 50th – a birthday I was never meant to see. For my challenge this year, I am doing 50 activities and asking people to donate £50 for each venture. I kicked things off my auditioning to read 50 lines in a local panto in which I played the giant in Jack and The Beanstalk. I’m working my way through making 50 origami llamas.

At the beginning of June will be the crescendo of my fundraising efforts as I cross the finish line of my 50th park run and I am hoping to have 50 people join me, bringing with them their own £50 donations so we can raise even more money for Brain Tumour Research.

I often think of my brain tumour journey as being from obstacles to opportunity. I’ve campaigned at the Houses of Parliament and tested my body and mind with different challenges I never imagined I would do – all because of my diagnosis. I view these as moments of opportunity I have experienced because of this disease.

We have a big painting on the wall at home, with the title “Fear Not”.  It is a bright yellow and blue abstract – a happy and cheerful image which my wife and I felt summed up where we are: fearful, but with God beside us.

Andrew Stammers

April 2024


Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. What’s more, they kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer... yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease since records began in 2002.

Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.

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