Jessica Zentilin-Dorey

4 min read

Originally from Pembrokeshire, Jess moved to Plymouth to join The Royal Navy at just 16 years old. In May 2022 Jess was serving on HMS Albion and joined their Field Gun team as she had always wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately, Jess had a seizure whilst at home the day before the team was due to travel to Portsmouth for the competition, this resulted in being diagnosed with a grade 4 astrocytoma at just 31. She has since undergone surgery and gruelling radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments. She is sharing her story to show that you can live alongside a brain tumour diagnosis.

Jess tells her story…

During the summer of 2022 I was training with my ship’s Field Gun team, a competition that happens every year at HMS Collingwood and is a long-standing naval tradition. The training was immensely intense for two to three months. I was getting up at 4:30 in the morning for field gun training sessions, maintaining my own gym routine and working a full day. The weather at the time was incredibly hot so when I began to feel tired and worn out, I just thought it was down to dehydration and exhaustion, but little did I know it was something more sinister.

Just nine weeks after getting married to Gabriella, on Sunday 26 June, my life changed forever. I had a seizure at home and all I remember was waking up on the kitchen floor, my wife leaning over me and calling my name, with no recollection of what had happened. She asked me if I knew her name to which I laughed and said Gabriella. She described that during this time I looked vacant and when I spoke her name, my speech was broken.

“My seizure had lasted for about eight minutes, and fortunately the ambulance arrived soon after.”

The paramedics took me to Derriford Hospital where I had a CT scan, an MRI scan and a few other tests. At around 10pm the results were back, and the doctor said: “there is no easy way to tell you this, but we have found a lesion on your brain, and it is most likely malignant. This is a life altering find.” Life altering it most certainly was.

I got sent home the next day, with information about what to expect next, and took time to process all my feelings and thoughts. Less than three weeks later I had a craniotomy to remove the tumour, the doctors said they were successful in removing 99% of the mass and Gabriella and I thought this was good news.

Prior to finding out my tumour diagnosis I was naïve about cancer, I assumed that it would follow a process: the doctors found it, treated it and you were sent on your merry cancer-free way and that was the end of that and so we went to the pathology results appointment in high spirits.

The pathology results stopped my assumptions in their tracks as I was told it was a grade 4 astrocytoma which is an incurable brain tumour. I didn’t want to know the prognosis, but understood that it would shorten my life expectancy. When we left the consultant’s room, Gabriella broke down in tears, I tried to hold it together but failed and broke into tears whilst holding her tightly. Our whole world had been turned upside down, forever changed.

“My curiosity got the better of me and, searching online, I seemed to find a variety of stories and information with numerous timelines.”

I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my life on a countdown so channelled my energy into parts of my life I could control. I made lifestyle changes such as cutting out alcohol and followed a plant-based diet.

Further treatment followed in September 2022 where I had radiotherapy followed by 12 months of chemo tablets. I was also on steroids to control my seizures – which meant I gained a huge amount of weight - until I was weaned off them after radiotherapy.

Prior to the tumour diagnosis I was 68kg. At the start of 2023 I was 78kg, the heaviest I had ever been, so I decided to set myself a goal of running a 10km to get back into fitness. As someone who had always been keen on health and movement, I finally felt able to get back to the gym and found that goal setting helped me keep a positive outlook and gave me a huge drive to stay focused.

In 2023 I completed the Plymouth 10km with a time of 60minutes bang on. I went on to complete the Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2hrs 12minutes.

Now in 2024 I am at 66kg and training for the Plymouth Half Marathon in April which I am doing with Gabriella. We have also signed up to do the Peak District 52km Ultra Challenge in July which will be something new for us both.

We want to keep achieving goals together and raising money for charities that have helped us through our cancer journey and help them by raising the funds they need to help others living with cancer.

There’s still so much that we don’t know about brain tumours. If we are to find kinder treatments and a cure for the disease, we must talk about brain tumours so people recognise the historic underfunding in vital research compared to other cancers.

I don’t feel like someone who is living with brain cancer, I don’t feel like I’m ill or have an incurable disease. I know my journey is far from over, my break in treatment right now is wonderful especially as it has been non-stop for 18 months, but I know that I will require more at some point.

One thing I am going to do is live my life to the fullest, that is one good thing that comes from getting a terminal diagnosis …you get perspective. I am going to do the things I want to do, achieve the goals I want to achieve, spend time with my loved ones and tell people that I love them every day because you never know when life is going to throw a curve ball. Time is so precious; I literally cannot emphasise that enough. One bit of advice I can give is to stay positive, be positive, act positive and do not succumb to the fear or darkness that can come with cancer. It is only natural and healthy to have bad days, know it’s OK to feel them but do not let it take a hold of you. Be brave and always keep smiling.

Jessica Zentilin-Dorey
January 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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