Courageous Burnley woman who underwent lifesaving brain tumour surgery on mission to raise awareness of the disease that kills more children and young people under the age of 40 than any other cancer
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This is a comment that Claudia Laird is unlikely to ever forget. Because less than a week later she was undergoing lifesaving surgery to remove a brain tumour. Left any longer, even just a day, it could have been fatal for Claudia.
Now, hopefully on the road to recovery Claudia wants to share her story and she has also started fundraising to help people affected by brain tumours and also for research and earlier diagnosis because as little as one percent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
Yet brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer.
Claudia said: "I would love to be an advocate to help young people and adults going through similar experiences, and to raise further awareness to all, including health professionals.
"Nobody expects to be diagnosed with a brain tumour at any point in their life and it came as a complete shock for myself and my family.
"The speed of diagnosis and treatment for me was paramount for a positive outcome and prognosis. And thanks to the concern and tenacity of my mum I received the treatment I needed eventually.
"Fingers crossed I will return to full health and I am ready to now live life to the fullest as the preciousness of life has really hit me. You start to see things differently and every moment matters.
"I see the smallest things that we take for granted differently, for example on my walks I have appreciated the sunsets and nature so much more and being with my family and friends."
The nightmare began for Claudia, who is training to be a paediatric nurse at the University of Manchester, on her last placement on a bone marrow transplant unit.
The random headaches and feelings of brain 'fuzz,' where she would struggle to concentrate, she put down down to working 12-hour days and night shifts.
But the episodes became more frequent after Christmas and on Friday, January 7th January, her concerned family dialled 999 due to her continuous vomiting, high heart rate and loss of feelings in both hands.
Taken to hospital Claudia was diagnosed with ‘gastroenteritis’ due to her symptoms and raised inflammation levels in her blood and discharged after five hours at 2am still being sick and feeling weak.
Claudia continued to feel very poorly and her mum Lynda, who works in healthcare, was extremely worried about her. The symptoms progressed to memory loss and hallucinations on the Sunday and by the next day Claudia was showing signs of confusion and could not speak rationally.
A GP assured the family nothing had shown up in the bloods and to see how she felt over the next few days.
While the symptoms eased slightly Claudia was still experiencing headaches, dizzy spells and a stiff neck. After a telephone appointment with her GP and an optician's appointment Claudia was once again advised to go to A and E where bloods were taken and she was told she could be starting with migraines and her request for a brain scan was met with the almost scathing response.
As the symptoms continued Lynda took matters into her own hands and demanded a face to face appointment for Claudia with a GP who observed a slight slow reaction in her right eye and telephoned Blackburn ambulatory care.
Claudia continued: "An appointment was made for 9am the next day and two conditions queried on the referral, a space offending lesion in the brain or POTTS.
"I was advised if any of my symptoms became worse or I deteriorated I should go straight to A and E.
"That evening I was sitting one of my nursing exams and I could not read the words clearly on my laptop and I began vomiting and I could not feel one of my hands. My mother insisted again that we go to Blackburn A and E at midnight.
"We left A and E due to no- one taking us seriously."
The following day Claudia had an appointment with ambulatory care at 9am. Two scans were carried out and within a couple of hours came the devastating diagnosis that she had a brain tumour.
Claudia was taken by ambulance to the Royal Preston Hospital and the following day she underwent an emergency eight hour operation to safely remove the tumour.
She said: "I would like to express how amazing Blackburn ambulatory care centre and the neurosurgery department at Preston hospital were with myself and my parents when I was diagnosed, which was a very difficult situation.
"Their caring approach, dedication, professionalism and expertise was phenomenal. The staff and numerous neurosurgeons especially, Dr Gregory Hall and his team at Preston hospital were outstanding and the care I received was amazing.
"After going through this ordeal I just wanted to raise awareness to all, especially health care professionals.
"On average it takes nine visits to a health care professional before diagnostic tests are done. Unfortunately, my mum, who works at Pendleside Hospice, and I had to really persevere to get my diagnosis, and we did not feel like we were taken seriously.
"However, as soon as I had the first CT scan the look on everyone’s faces changed due to the size of the tumour and how dangerous it could have been if untreated for any longer, even just for a day."
This is not the first time cancer has touched the family as, in 2013, Claudia's dad Baron was also diagnosed with primary and secondary head and neck cancer.
This extremely brave and determined young woman has now returned to her second year of training to be a paediatric nurse at the University of Manchester and in the future she plans to do some travelling.
A former pupil at Read Primary and Ribblesdale High schools, Claudia is a graduate of Leeds University where she studied psychology. She has praised her family, including her older sister Courtney (27) ,younger brother Max who is 22, and 12-year-old sister Poppy for their support.
Claudia added: " I also cannot thank my parents for being beside me every step of the way and for their determination to get my diagnosis and for their endless love, support, positivity, hope and strength."
Dr Jawad Husain, Executive Medical Director for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: "The Trust is indebted to Claudia for sharing her experiences and her bravery in raising these issues is inspiring. It is clear from her feedback that she has been critically ill and we’re pleased to hear she is now recovering well.
"Whilst there are positives to take from her story, there is also lots to learn and we’re sorry she was left to feel unheard and uncared for during her diagnosis.
" We’d be keen to know more and would hope to meet with her to discuss further and provide an opportunity for her to help us to improve.
“We think it is fantastic that she is going to be an advocate and increase awareness of this condition and its presenting symptoms and we’d love to work with her on this, both in the Trust itself, wider healthcare system and in the local community.”