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Newport mum thought brain cancer symptoms was stress

Rachael Carter is fighting a grade 3 brain tumour

A 46-year-old mum-of-two from Newport in South Wales is raising money for Brain Tumour Research, after being diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour.

Rachael Carter, a regional business manager for Willmott Dixon, is joining a group of fundraisers taking on a 10-day step challenge from 1 to 10 March 2021, to raise vital funds for the charity.

Rachael, who lives in Bassaleg, was diagnosed with a grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma in 2019 after suffering from a range of symptoms, including tiredness and forgetfulness. She said: “My job involved a lot of driving and being away from home. It was a busy, stressful role, so when I first started suffering with fatigue and headaches in 2019, I thought it was work-related. I was also becoming forgetful and was struggling to sleep but it wasn’t until June that year that I realised something much more serious was going on.”

In June 2019 Rachael suffered a seizure shortly after returning from a holiday to Tunisia, during which she “hadn’t felt right”. She was rushed to Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport and put into an induced coma.

Rachael said: “After they found a ‘shadow’ at the front of my brain, I was transferred to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, where I was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma brain tumour. I was told it may have growing for anywhere between five and eight years.”

Rachael, who is mum to two children aged 12 and 11, had surgery to debulk the tumour on 20 September 2019. She said: “It was an awful period, as my dad was ill at the time of my diagnosis and he passed away on 9 September, just days before my craniotomy. His funeral was just a week after my brain surgery. It was horrendous. 

“On top of that, explaining everything to my children was so hard. I was made aware from the outset that my prognosis isn’t great; it averages at between two and five years. It’s taken a while for me to be able to talk openly about my illness but I’m learning to live with it and to try and make the most of the time I have. 

“Tragically, I lost a good family friend to the disease in 2015. Anthony Hard was just 36 when he died, after battling an oligoastrocytoma brain tumour for four years. He was such a wonderful man, whose smile lit up the room. Anthony was also from Newport. He was a very fit and otherwise healthy guy, who served as an aircraft engineer in the RAF. He left behind his wife Nahella and their two beautiful children. The disease is so cruel and indiscriminate.”

Cpl Anthony Hard laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday

Rachael’s surgeon managed to remove the majority of her tumour but she has been told it is likely to grow back. Following surgery, she was treated at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff with 31 sessions of daily radiotherapy and at the beginning of 2020 she began a seven-month course of chemotherapy.

Rachael said: “The radiotherapy made me really poorly. Christmas 2019 was a write off. Chemo made my hair fall out and I suffered from a lot of sickness. I take anti-epilepsy medication, which has fortunately prevented me from having any more seizures. 

“One of the worst things for me has been giving up work. Physically and mentally, I’m just not able to do the job I was doing before. Thankfully, the company has been brilliant and I am still employed by them. I’m really grateful for their support.” 

When Rachael’s friend Michelle Huckle, a fitness instructor from Afon Village, decided to fundraise for Brain Tumour Research by setting up a 10-day step challenge, Rachael was keen to take part. Participants set their own daily steps target and these steps can be achieved in any way, be it walking, running or even dancing.

Rachael said: “I met Michelle 10 years ago when I was doing one of her Zumba classes. When she approached me about fundraising for Brain Tumour Research, I was delighted to get involved. I’m aiming to complete 10,000 steps a day, which will be a challenge but hopefully achievable, as I’m trying to build up my fitness again after treatment.”

Michelle, who runs Homefit online exercise classes said: “I usually teach classes face-to-face in Rivermead Centre in Afon Village and in local health clubs but I’ve had to move it all online during the pandemic. I fundraise for a different cause each year. Two of the ladies I know through my work have lost their husbands to brain tumours, leaving behind young children. One of them is my friend Deb Walters, from Griffithstown in Torfaen. She’s also been taking part in the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge, in memory of her husband Dan and is helping us to organise the 10-day steps challenge. The other is Sarah Laughton, from Rogerstone, who is participating in memory of her husband Pete. 

“I was shocked to discover the stark statistics surrounding the disease and the lack of funding available for research into brain tumours. Knowing the tragedies my friends have suffered and all that Rachael has been through spurred me on to fundraise to help find a cure. Rachael’s a great friend and her strength is inspiring. I’m so pleased she’s joining us for the challenge. We’re calling ourselves the ‘Brain Brigade’ and we’re hoping to raise as much as we can for this cause, close to our hearts.”

Rachael added: “Apart from walking, exercise has fallen by the wayside since I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I’ve been home-schooling our two children on-and-off since March 2020, all while being on cancer treatment and having to shield, as I was classified as vulnerable. It’s been tough and I’ve felt cooped up much of the time. Luckily, I’ve got great support from friends and family and I’ve had my first dose of the COVID vaccine, which is a relief. 

“Taking on this challenge will provide me with some much-needed focus and it’s something really positive to get stuck into, all while raised money for this hugely important cause.”

Michelle’s 10-day step challenge has 169 participants signed up and between them they’ve already raised £2,450. Participants are asked to make a £10 donation but they’re not required to collect sponsorship, although donations from friends and family are welcomed, to help boost the funds.  

Brain tumours 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.

Joe Woollcott, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We were so sorry to hear about Rachael’s diagnosis and wish her all the very best with her ongoing treatment and scans. Her story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. What’s more, less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years compared with an average of 50% across all cancers. We cannot allow this desperate situation to continue.

“We are so grateful to Michelle, Rachael and all the ‘Brain Brigade’ participants for taking on this innovative fundraising challenge. Like so many of our fantastic fundraisers, they’re not letting lockdown get in the way of their efforts and we’re sure they will inspire lots of people to get involved and donate.” 

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

To donate to Brain Tumour Research via the Brain Brigade fundraising page, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/team/Brainbrig