Craig Russell

4 min read

Actor and father-of-two, Craig from Falmouth in Cornwall was diagnosed with a low-grade meningioma in February 2023. The 46-year-old’s diagnosis came after months of migraines and episodes of brain fog. Almost a year after surgery, Craig is working with Brain Tumour Research to help raise awareness and campaigning for more investment into the disease.

Actor Craig Russell

Craig tells his story…

Having come through my diagnosis and treatment it’s only now that I’ve thought about when my symptoms started. I was filming with a sound guy in December last year who I’d worked with previously in the September before (2022).

I had to record different guttural groans almost like they were coming from the boots up when I had this whooshing sound over the back of my head as if someone had dunked me under water. If I wasn’t sitting down I think I would have collapsed. My head went really hot and then it passed. I thought with the sounds I was making, I might have made myself hyperventilate.

This happened a few times, with no trigger I could pinpoint.

As a teenager I suffered with migraines with the pain always being behind my right eye. This time the discomfort was at the back of my head, becoming more frequent alongside the episodes of whooshing. I noticed I was using my medication more often to keep the pain at my head at bay.

Around October 2022, I was driving with my eldest son Teddy who was eight at the time. We were on our way home from a birthday party and I was driving up to a roundabout I’d driven around hundreds of times before but I took the wrong turning. Teddy asked where we were going and I replied I don’t know. My mind went totally blank like my brain stopped working, it was the most peculiar thing. Teddy directed us home and we laughed about it after.

I started waking up with a pain at the back of my skull as I lifted my head from the pillow. It was another warning sign but I had no idea what for.

I spoke to my friend about how I’d been feeling and they suggested it could be anxiety so I thought I’d take steps to work on my mental health. I used to practice cold water therapy and Wim Hof breathwork which I had let slide. I got myself back into the habit and my migraines became easier to deal with.

I’d grown up with a supportive and positive role model in my mum and that was a part of her personality which filtered through to me. I was and still am a complete optimist and thought I’d found a way to manage.

Shortly before Christmas I started bumping into things. I’d walk into things or kick stuff on the floor I hadn’t seen. My wife, Kate suggested I get my eyes checked which I put on a list to do in the new year.

I momentarily found myself trapped in our spare room, I couldn’t work out how to get out. Standing on the spot for about five seconds I couldn’t work out how to leave the room even though there was only one way in and out and the door was behind me.

This brain fog happened four more times with Kate having to direct me to places I’d driven many times before on top of everything else. Kate said enough is enough and encouraged me to prioritise my health and go to the GP.

Craig Russell with his wife Kate

I told the GP everything that had been happening, suggesting I could have anxiety or maybe a virus. She checked my eyesight and found I was going blind in my left eye. I’d never needed glasses and was in my mid-40s, I thought maybe this was a sign of ageing and I was referred for a CT scan.

The morning before my CT scan we took a family walk in a local woods and had lunch. I went to my appointment feeling fine and grateful for my family.

Days later the GP called and told me the scan showed some kind of cyst on my brain and I needed an MRI for a more in-depth look.

Another phone call a couple of days later confirmed I had a brain tumour. I was out and it stopped me in my tracks. Arriving home I told Kate I had a brain tumour and that’s the only time I’ve had a wobble throughout my diagnosis. I felt my eyes fill with tears as Kate embraced me with reassuring words that everything would be OK.

From that moment, everything came thick and fast.

I was warned of the potential side effects of surgery and after six-and-a-half hours in theatre my tumour was confirmed as a low-grade meningioma. I woke up on the trolley being transported to the ward. I spoke to Kate on the phone and asked her not to tell me what happened in Happy Valley. She laughed as did the team steering my bed.

The surgeon told me they had successfully removed a lime-sized tumour which had probably been growing for 15 years, pushing against my skull causing it to protrude. I was the proud owner of a brand-new part plastic part concrete mix where they removed and discarded part of my skull the tumour was pressed against.

Craig's scar after surgery

I suffered complications during my recovery with a build up of fluid causing pressure on my brain. I was given a handful of options, most of which involved another operation. I couldn’t bear the idea of another stint in hospital and being away from my family any longer.

My consultant gave me 10 days to allow my body to drain the fluid otherwise I’d have to have surgery.

I spent the next week and a half moving my body at every opportunity, working through dizzy spells to lift weights and follow Chris Hemsworth’s training programme. I covered 100 miles through walking and running. My body shape changed and I became a fitter version of myself, determined to fight this myself without the need for another operation.

I managed to correct the drainage problem in those 10 days thus not needing a shunt being fitted.

I’m monitored with bi-annual scans. If the April one is anything like the one in October then they could move to one every year.

I’ve only had two migraines since the tumour was removed, as opposed to almost one a week in the build up to its discovery.

For a period of time after my operation the back of my head was very sensitive and I’m very aware of that in my role as a dad, play fighting with the boys or whether I am taking on a fight scene during a film.

For the longest time I didn’t know what was wrong with me and Kate was taking care of our children whilst looking out for me. I appreciate things in a different way to how I did before and have nothing but praise for the NHS. My main focus is to take care of my family how they took care of me and to raise awareness about brain tumours.

Before being told I had a brain tumour, I didn’t know how little funding research this disease receives. It’s opened up conversations with friends and family who have commented how much more they are noticing brain tumour stories in their everyday lives.

The fact that brain tumours 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 is ludicrous.

Craig Russell

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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