Carrie-Ann Greenwood

4 min read

Carrie-Ann Greenwood, from Holywell in Flintshire, North Wales, was 36 weeks pregnant when a sudden loss of vision on her right side prompted her to visit her optician. She was referred for an MRI scan, which revealed a golf ball-sized tumour on her pituitary gland.

The diagnosis in May 2016 led to an emergency caesarean section to deliver her daughter Cerys, followed by brain surgery just days later.

Carrie-Ann tells her story…

I began to experience daily headaches and blurred vision while I was expecting my daughter Cerys. As it was my first pregnancy, I put my symptoms down to the hormonal changes which occur when you’re expecting a baby. Things came to a head during a meal out when my younger brother Aaron. He was sitting next to me on my right and I realised, to my horror, that I couldn’t see him at all without swivelling my head. There was obviously something seriously wrong with my peripheral vision, so I made an appointment to see my optician on Bank Holiday Monday in May 2016. She detected an abnormality at the back of my eye, so I was referred to my GP, who told me to go straight to Glan Clwyd Hospital in Bodelwyddan for a scan. The scan revealed a pituitary tumour, the size of a golf ball, in my brain.

“The doctors initially planned to induce my labour but when they sought advice from the neurological team at the Walton Centre in Liverpool, they were warned that an induction could cause a fatal increase in pressure inside my skull.”

Instead, they decided to deliver Cerys by c-section. She was born at 10am on Friday 6 May, the day after my 27th birthday. She was perfectly healthy, weighing 5lb 8oz. My mum had to look after her initially, as I was rushed by ambulance to The Walton Centre for emergency neurosurgery to remove the tumour. I arrived at The Walton by 5pm, just hours after giving birth. I don’t remember anything about it, as I was still high on morphine, but apparently, they shut the Mersey Tunnel to make sure I could get there as quickly as possible. It was really awful leaving Cerys. I really didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. I just wanted to be bonding with my new baby and enjoying those first precious moments. Being separated from your newborn, in such horrible circumstances, is something I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My ex-partner, Cerys’ dad Andrew, had to make the impossible decision of leaving her too, to accompany me to hospital.  

I was admitted to The Walton and my surgery took place three days later on Monday 9 May. Thankfully, the six-hour endoscopic operation was a success. My surgeon, Miss Gilkes, was lovely. I’ll always remember her coming to see me at my bedside after the surgery; she was always wearing fabulous shoes! She told me they’d managed to remove most of the tumour and some of my pituitary gland. A small part couldn’t be removed, because it was attached to some important arteries. I couldn’t fault the care I had at The Walton. I’ll be forever grateful for the way in which they and all the medical staff at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd looked after me and Cerys. They managed to bring Cerys to see me, as I was given a private room. The nurses were popping in and out all the time, not to see me but to see Cerys, as it was a novelty to have a tiny baby on the neuro ward.

“I came home less than a week after having surgery. It was tough-going, recovering from both my c-section and brain surgery concurrently.”

I had a tube fitted in my back to drain the build-up of cerebrospinal  fluid (CSF) from my brain. Andrew was shocked when he saw it and he said I looked so poorly; he was worried I was going to die. I was fine but it took me time to recover. The truth is that both Cerys and I could have died if I hadn’t acted on my instincts and gone to the optician that day. I would advise anyone who thinks their eyesight suddenly becomes a little strange to get it checked out.

After my surgery, I continued to be monitored with six-monthly scans both at The Walton and Glan Clwyd Hospital. The regular scans showed everything was stable until March 2019, when some regrowth was detected. The upshot was that I had to have a course of radiotherapy, to try to shrink the tumour and prevent any further regrowth. The course was five days of treatment every week, for five weeks. Thankfully, I breezed through it. It’s only now, 18 months or so later, that I’m experiencing after-effects, such as my hair thinning and falling out in clumps. After my radiotherapy I wasn’t well enough to go back to my job at Abakhan Fabrics, Hobby & Home, in Mostyn, so I took some time out to be a full-time mum. I’ve recently submitted my application to study for a degree in forensic science at Wrexham Glyndŵr University. All being well, I will start next September, taking me one step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a forensic scientist.

I continue to be scanned every six months and luckily, my last one in spring 2020 showed no change and things are stable. Cerys is now four-and-a-half and is thriving in Year R at primary school. She is doing so well and I couldn’t be prouder of her. I am on daily steroids, which help control my symptoms. They cause me to gain weight easily and I suffer from mood swings but if I don’t take them, I become really forgetful and suffer with low energy. I just feel strange when I don’t take my medication. But I have a huge amount to be grateful for and I remain determined to stay positive. There’s no point in being miserable. I enjoy life and don’t take anything for granted. I’m just grateful I’m still here.

Next month my brother Aaron and I will be taking part in a Santa Dash to raise money for Brain Tumour Research. We will be running shuttles along a section of the Wales Coastal Path between Greenfield Dock and Bagillit. Aaron serves in the British Army with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and is currently based in Scotland. I’m waiting to do the challenge until he is home for Christmas leave, so we can do it together. He will be wearing his Santa onesie and I’ll be looking for something similar to match! It will be special doing the run with him, as he was with me that evening in 2016 when I first realised something was seriously wrong. Shortly after I was discharged from hospital after my surgery, Aaron came home from his barracks to surprise me with a visit. We are both committed to the cause of funding research into brain tumours. My own experience has taught me just how drastically underfunded this area of cancer research is. I count myself as one of the lucky ones because my tumour was low-grade and treatable but I know too many other brain tumour patients are not so fortunate. I want to do my bit to help them and their loved ones.

Carrie-Ann Greenwood
November 2020

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 historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.

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