A mom of two whose concerns about blurred vision, aches, pains, and brain fog were dismissed as signs of menopause by three different doctors, discovered that she had a massive brain tumor after opting to pay for a private scan.
Tammy Andrews, 47, of Dorset, England, had just started to spread her wings in 2019 after completing three years of college and obtaining her nursing degree.Read More
“I hadn’t struggled with going back to [to college]. But then I started having hot flushes, and I was so tired with aches and pains,” noted Andrews in an interview that appeared in The Sun.
“From being an energetic person always on the go, I was dragging myself through the days. I wasn’t as sharp as I usually am and got muddle-headed.”
In February, she decided to go to the doctor, who diagnosed her as menopausal and vitamin D deficient. She received a prescription for cholecalciferol (a vitamin D supplement), and even herself admits that the diagnosis “made sense.”
The symptoms did not improve, and soon she started experiencing blurred vision.
Andrews went to the optometrist, who prescribed her glasses after running a series of eye exams.
However, that proved to be little more than a temporary fix, as Andrews explained in her interview.
“Wearing my glasses, I would put one hand over my eye and couldn’t see anything out of my right eye, and I could hardly see any colors.”
“I also felt bunged up, and the doctor gave me a nasal spray.”
However, Andrews refused to give up hope, and in September, she finally got the referral she needed to book an MRI. However, no sooner had she called than she learned her MRI had not been deemed urgent and would likely take weeks to schedule.
At this point, it had been seven months with no progress, so Andrews decided to take matters into her own hands.
“At the time, I was training to be a nurse so I knew exactly how important it was to listen to the patient,” she explained while sharing her story with the Brain Tumor Charity. “But I felt that no one was listening to me. I was getting very worried, because I knew that something was wrong and I really needed to find out what.”
She booked a private MRI (outside of the National Health Service, which provides free public healthcare) and six days later returned for the results. The first words out of her doctor’s mouth were: “You have a brain tumor.”
Andrews said that she felt a mix of emotions when she finally got those results.
“I’m going to die.” “I just thought, I can’t die, I’m a mum,’” recalled Andrews.
“But a part of me felt relief that at least I knew what was wrong with me. Someone was listening, and I didn’t have to fight for answers anymore.”
Andrews then returned to work as usual, but three days later got a call informing her that a bed was available and that she needed to get to the hospital for surgery or she might go blind.
The following day she underwent a seven-hour craniotomy that saved her sight and her life.
She is doing better these days, and while almost all of the tumor is gone, she will likely need radiation down the line to help keep it at bay.
Andrews admits that some days are complicated, and there can be tears or fears that the tumor will grow back, but she stays strong for her daughters and credits her husband with being her rock.
Advocate for Yourself
If there is one piece of advice every cancer patient should keep at the front of their mind, it is this: be your own advocate.
Whether you are Tammy Andrews and refuse to believe menopause can be causing the array of symptoms you are experiencing, or you have already been diagnosed and are working with your medical team. Always convey in as clear and direct a manner as you can so that those around you know precisely what you are feeling and thinking at the moment.
And if something does not sit right with you or you disagree with a course of action? Say something.
Leave no possibility unexplored, get all symptoms addressed, and find someone who will hear you if you do not feel heard.
The best way to do this is to continue to push for answers and remember that you are the best and deserve the best.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional– that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
Get a Second Opinion
Tammy Andrews may have agreed with her menopause diagnosis initially, but she eventually sought a second opinion. Then a third. And when she did not like those, she just went out on her own, and it saved her life.
Doctors are not always in agreement about how to treat cancer in patients. And given the stakes in these situations, you must see at least two or more doctors to see what course of treatment appeals the most to you while picking up any gaps or holes left in other plans.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute and one of America’s most renowned cancer doctors, agrees.
“If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care because finding a doctor who is up to the latest of information is important,” Rosenberg previously told SurvivorNet. “And it’s always important to get other opinions so that you can make the best decisions for yourself in consultation with your care providers.”