Saturday, 13 August 2022

I watched Harry Potter during brain surgery

A STUDENT is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charity less than 18 months after being diagnosed

A STUDENT is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charity less than 18 months after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour.

Beth Staley, 21, has undergone four operations since discovering she had cancer on Christmas Eve 2014.

These included one to remove the tumour, which was about the size of satsuma, while she was still awake and watching a Harry Potter film.

Now, after being given the all clear, she will attempt to scale the 20,000ft mountain in Tanzania in aid of Worldwide Cancer Research.

Beth, of Cromwell Road, Henley, was diagnosed after developing double vision and visiting Bunker Opticians in Duke Street.

She had also been experiencing pins and needles in the left-hand side of her face and down her left arm for several months.

Beth, a third year geography student at Cardiff University, said: “I didn’t take much notice of this but then I developed double vision, so I went for an eye test.

“The optician noticed a haemorrhage on the optic nerve in my right eye, caused by the pressure of my swollen brain. She sent me to eye casualty at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and the doctors did an MRI head scan and found my tumour.

“They took me into a room, sat me down and told me I had a brain tumour. They said, ‘there’s something growing in your brain and we’re not sure what it is’.

“I kind of went a bit numb and didn’t really understand what they were saying. I remember sitting there, thinking ‘this can’t be happening’. I had no idea that the symptoms I had been having were caused by a brain tumour.”

Beth spent Christmas Day at home with her family — father Allan, a photographer, mother Deborah Kelly, a journalist, and sister Nadia, 19 — and began taking steroids to fight the growth as well as anti-seizure drugs.

She had surgery at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford only weeks later.

The operation was carried out by consultant neurosurgeon Dr Puneet Plaha and Beth had to stay awake throughout.

She said: “If a brain tumour can be removed surgically you have a much better chance of survival.

“They gave me a consent form — the potential risks were death, stroke or paralysis. That was the point where I realised the seriousness of the situation I was in.

“They injected my head so they made it completely numb and put it in a clamp. They took off the right side of my head basically. They took off the skin and then a circle of bone where my tumour was.

“The reason they do it while you’re awake is the tumour is the same colour as your brain. When they take out the tumour they need to be 100 per cent they are taking out the tumour and not the brain.

“I had a psychologist sitting next to me asking me how I was feeling. I was drawing houses and doing memory tests. If she noticed anything was wrong she would tell my neurosurgeon and he would move away from that area of the brain he was operating on. It’s trying to make sure you damage as little of the brain as possible.

“They let me watch a Harry Potter film on a phone that one of the nurses held up to me just to keep me occupied!”

Fortunately, the procedure went smoothly and Beth was able to go home the next day. Following a biopsy, she was diagnosed with a malignant grade three ependymoma.

“That was probably the hardest point,” recalled Beth. “The word ‘cancer’ has such a taboo. I had a tumour and it was cancerous. I felt a bit defeated because I’d done so well with the surgery.”

Beth had a second operation in March last year after another MRI scan showed up tissue that could have been part of the tumour but in fact turned out to be scar tissue.

A third operation was performed in April to clean the scar on her head that had become infected. Beth spent 10 days in hospital and was given strong antibiotics.

This was followed by seven weeks of radiotherapy from May to June at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. She received 20 minutes a day, five days a week.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said Beth. “It made my brain swell up quite a lot and I lost half of my hair.”

Throughout her treatment, she continued with her university work and handed in all her essays on time.

In September she had a fourth and final operation to drain fluid that had built up in the area where the tumour had been and spent a week back in the John Radcliffe.

Four days after leaving hospital, she returned to university and in December she was told by Dr Plaha that she was cancer-free.

“I was really, really happy,” she said. “I didn’t know how much of a tough experience it was until I came out the other side. Then it really hits you what you have been through. For Mr Plaha to tell me I had the all-clear was quite special.”

Beth, a former pupil of Trinity primary and Gillotts School, was able to go out to celebrate with friends, which she had been unable to do the previous Christmas. “That was really special for me,” she said.

She will still have to undergo scans every three months for the next 15 years but otherwise can get on with her life.

That includes taking on the climbing challenge in August when she will part of a team of 20.

“It’s going to be a massive achievement for me,” she said. “When I had my first brain surgery, walking to the end of the road was a big challenge because it had made me really weak.

“I want to prove to myself that I can go from having a brain tumour to walking up the highest freestanding mountain in the world.”

She has been training in the Peak District with her family and is planning to do more in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

She thanked her family for supporting her.

“Both my parents are absolutely incredible,” said Beth. “They really held themselves together, which is what I needed. They were the driving force that got me through it.”

She also thanked the medics, saying: “I had the most amazing team of doctors and nurses who treated me throughout the year. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them and I am extremely grateful for everything they have done for me.” Beth added: “I think the scariest thing about cancer is that anybody can get it at any point in their lives without any warning. It is an unfair and brutal disease that takes the lives of so many people. I hope the money I raise will support research into cancer so that more people like me will be able to carry on their lives in as normal a way as possible.

“It’s a very surreal experience for me thinking about it now. It has given me a different perspective on life. It made me realise how important life is because I was so close to having mine taken from me.

“I just want to try to live my life in the best way possible because I know that I have been given a second chance, a privilege that a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to receive.”

If you would like to donate, there are collection boxes at Shiplake village stores and at the Henley Chiropractic Centre in West Street or visit

Businesses which sponsor Beth to the tune of £50 will get a slot on a T-shirt which she will wear at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.

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