Benign Tumours Are Not Harmless, Innocent Or Fine

Back in May my non verbal ten year old son went for a routine MRI scan because he has a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). What happened next changed my entire family. A few weeks later I had a phone call from my son’s neurologist to say they had found a brain tumour and after discussions with a neurosurgeon and oncologist he had major brain surgery a few weeks later. My son was admitted to hospital and underwent a six hour craniotomy operation for a brain tumour biopsy. He had a long recovery.

Results came back that his tumour was ‘benign’ so I looked up the word and breathed a huge sigh of relief. According to the dictionary that meant his tumour was ‘harmless, innocent, superficial and innocuous’. Fantastic!

Except it wasn’t.

As his surgeon later explained it actually doesn’t matter wether a tumour is benign or cancerous as, especially in the brain, they are just as dangerous and cause major effects.

My son may need chemotherapy at some point. He may need further surgery. His tumour caused him to be epileptic, vomit, have visual difficulties, lose balance, be very lethargic, and be very unwell.

Benign isn’t fine and never will be.

We need to rethink urgently what benign means.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Joe who has had two years of chemotherapy and is now almost blind.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Tayen who is now on her fourth round of chemotherapy, epileptic, and is completely blind just to name a few of her very complex needs.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Evia who is also blind and has had two years of chemotherapy.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Logan whose tumours in his neck, throat, heat and arms are so aggressive surgery is no longer an option leaving him with lung disease, epilepsy, learning difficulties, scoliosis and hypotonia.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Ella who has endured major surgery on her spine.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Ronnie who has had chemotherapy and now has vision loss.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Isobel who has a tumour in her head mouth and cheek and is blind in one eye and facially disfigured.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Harley who has had two operations, 7 general anaesthetics, 5 MRI’s and chemotherapy.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Jon-Paul who is in chronic pain daily with a tumour on his ankle.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Heather who has had her leg amputated below the knee die to a tumour.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Ruby who has endured surgery and 18 months of chemotherapy for a brain tumour.

Having a benign. Tumour isn’t fine for Dan who has had chemotherapy, sepsis and has vision and hearing loss.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Harvey who needed brain surgery.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Kiki who has had chemotherapy for a brain tumour.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Kearyn who has vision loss.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Teagan who also has had chemotherapy as vision loss.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Elayna who is having brain surgery next month.

Having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Shay who has had two brain tumour surgeries so far.

And finally having a benign tumour isn’t fine for Evie who has operations to remove her tumours resulting in a facial nerve being severed and loss of hearing.

Are any of these cases ‘harmless, innocent, superficial and innocuous’? Is that how you would describe what my families and all these other families have been through and continue to go through?

Tumours related to NF1 May be benign but that doesn’t mean we can ignore them. Benign tumours cause pain, damage, deformities, disabilities and can kill.

For the sake of my son and all the thousands of other families living with benign tumours, wether NF1 related or not please can we redefine what benign means and stops giving the impression that benign tumours are ‘fine’.

They are absolutely NOT fine.

Please support the Childhood Tumour Trust campaign using the hastag #BenignIsNotFine

For more information please see http://www.childhoodtumourtrust.org.uk

Thank you.

Six Years On: How Has Having A Diagnosis Of Autism Helped?

According to my Facebook memories it is exactly six years today since my daughter was diagnosed. She was 4 at the time and had been going through the process of diagnosis for over a year by the time her appointment came.

I recently heard a parent of a child suspected of being on the spectrum say they would never look to get their child diagnosed as they didn’t wish them to ‘be labelled.’

So how has having my daughter diagnosed helped?

Firstly it helped HER.

This is by far the most important point. My daughter is able to accept herself, understand herself and find her ‘tribe’ by having an identity and knowing that while she may be different she is far from alone. Her mental health was one of the biggest reasons I sought for a diagnosis. There is no shame is being autistic and I seek to promote her autism as part of her wonderful, unique and beautiful personality. It is who she is and she embraces that.

Secondly it helped HER EDUCATION.

By having a diagnosis her anxiety is recognised and supported. Her selective mutism is understood and not ignored. When she takes language as literal teachers can see she isn’t being cheeky or naughty but it is a genuine processing difference. Her social differences are understood and can be supported. Her strengths can be celebrated and her struggles supported. Sadly without a diagnosis some services could not be accessed and therefore support could not be put in place. Having a diagnosis brought patience, understanding and help that she would otherwise have missed out on.

Finally it helped ME.

I am still the same parent I was before but now my mental health has improved making me a stronger and happier person. We are too quick to forget how much parental mental health can affect families. When parents feel they are to blame for their child’s difficulties, anxieties and struggles they become defensive, depressed and isolated. Unfortunately parent blame is rife without a diagnosis as it is assumed the child is struggling through poor parenting. This is very rarely the case but it has destroyed so many families when diagnosis is delayed or withheld. I am more able to embrace my child, celebrate her and enable her because I understand her better and no longer carry the burden of guilt that I am to blame.

Naomi’s diagnosis report is very different to the child she is five years later. Her autism now manifests in very different ways but she is still autistic and both of us celebrate that fact daily.

Autism hasn’t stopped her succeeding, in fact in many ways it has helped her. She’s a rule-abider, people pleaser, unique and funny individual who accepts her own quirks and is happy being herself. She has struggled and even added ‘extra’ diagnosis over the years including an eating disorder but in the six years since her autism diagnosis she has won several awards, been on prime time TV, fought and won for a disabled swing in the local park for her brother and even written some incredible blogs about her own struggles.

Would I still want her diagnosis today if she wasn’t already? Absolutely!

Diagnosis isn’t anything to fear, it’s a key that helps you understand and access support. It doesn’t define your child it just enables them to be free to be exactly who they are.

If you are worried about your child’s development do seek advice from your GP, health visitor or child development team. It is in everyone’s interest to support and diagnose where necessary.