Getting a Brain Tumor Diagnosis
- Doctors initially told Grant Churnin-Ritchie, 42, that his fatigue and tingling sensations were due to long COVID, symptoms that people have been experiencing after contracting COVID-19.
- However, after pushing for a blood test, Churnin-Ritchie learned that his symptoms were actually from a brain tumor.
- Brain tumors, whether they are cancerous or not, can be very dangerous. They can compress parts of the brain, leading to debilitating symptoms and severe dysfunction.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, general signs and symptoms of brain tumors can include: headaches or the feeling of pressure in the head; nausea; vomiting; eye issues like blurry vision and more.
- Facing any sort of health battle can be extremely overwhelming, so having support is crucial, just like Grant Churnin-Ritchie said he had in his wife and family.
Churnin-Ritchie was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2021. So, doctors were convinced he was suffering from long COVID when his health suffered continuously after that.Read More
Advocating for a Correct Diagnosis
Unsatisfied with the answers he kept receiving, Churnin-Ritchie insisted on a blood test. That’s when doctors discovered he had adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism and an abnormal heartbeat.
Adrenal insufficiency is a disorder that develops when the adrenal glands don’t make enough of certain hormones like the "stress hormone" cortisol, which is essential for life. Hypothyroidism, also referred to as an underactive thyroid, can disrupt a person’s heart rate. It occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones for your body.
“An endocrinologist at St James’ University Hospital said it could be caused by COVID or a pituitary tumor,” Churnin-Ritchie explained. “An MRI scan confirmed it was a brain tumor which had probably been growing for 10 years.”
Eleven months after his diagnosis, Churnin-Ritchie underwent surgery to remove his tumor on Jan. 16, 2023.
“Soon after, I started to feel a lot better. Removing the tumor allowed some of the adrenal gland to start functioning again,” he said.
“Even though I now have to take medication, I can lead a normal life.”
Churnin-Ritchie was told there was a 20% chance of his tumor “growing back” after the surgery. An upcoming MRI in July will give doctors a better idea of his current status.
For now, the father of three is focusing his efforts on things within his control like his fundraising efforts. Most recently, he raised over $3,000 for Brain Tumour Research after running a half marathon hosted by the charity.
“Being able to run the half marathon with my wife Hannah was great, and I'm glad to be able to raise awareness of brain tumors,” he said.
“Because I only had two months to train for the race, I found it very hard to complete. Luckily, I had my wonderful family and friends cheering me on which got me through it.”
What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Tumor?
Developing a brain tumor is not a common occurrence, but the American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates 24,810 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with primary cancerous tumors of the brain and spinal cord in 2023.
The term primary, in this context, means the tumor originated in the brain or spinal cord as opposed to spreading to those areas.
A brain tumor can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign), but even a benign tumor can be dangerous or even life-threatening. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, benign brain tumors “can damage and compress parts of the brain, causing severe dysfunction.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, general signs and symptoms of brain tumors include:
- Headaches or the feeling of pressure in the head. Headaches are the most common symptom of brain tumors.
- Eye issues like blurry vision, double vision or loss of sight on the sides of your vision.
- Loss of feeling or movement in a leg or arm.
- Balance issues.
- Speech issues.
- Memory issues.
- Issues following simple instructions.
- Shifts in personality or behavior.
- Hearing issues.
- Dizziness or vertigo.
- An increase in appetite and weight gain.
It’s important to note that the symptoms above can also be attributed to other health conditions. Just because you have one or more of them, doesn’t necessarily mean you have a brain tumor.
However, if you do notice changes to your body or feel concerned about any new symptoms, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. And if you ever feel like your concerns aren’t being taken seriously, don’t be afraid to seek multiple opinions.
Support During a Cancer Battle
Facing any sort of health battle can be extremely overwhelming, so having support is crucial, just like Grant Churnin-Ritchie said he had in his wife and family.
That being said, it's crucial to know your limits on what you can handle as your prioritize your recovery from a health issue.
"Going through [cancer] treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. "Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too muchâ€¦ [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment."
Still, our experts say support can be very beneficial. Especially when it comes to dealing with loneliness.
"Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery," Dr. Strongin wrote. "Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment."
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, actress and melanoma survivor Jill Kargman attested to benefit of having a supportive partner during her cancer battle. She, like Rebecca Crews, saw the experience strengthen her relationship.
"I think cancer is a great way to find out if you’re with the love of your life or a shithead,” she said.
“I think it presses the fast forward button on getting to the bottom of that answer, because a lot of people in middle age are kind of at a crossroads, waiting for their kids to fly the coop.
"I think if you're with someone who is not supportive and kind of emotionally checked out or doesn't tell you you're still beautiful with that, this might not be your person."