Understanding Brain Tumors
- Kane Allcock, 15, struggled with headaches, dizziness and even struggled to walk. But his doctors thought he had post-COVID vertigo. Eventually, his mother’s persistence got them to the right diagnosis: a noncancerous brain tumor.
- Symptoms of brain tumors are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, balance problems, personality or behavior changes, seizures, drowsiness or even comas. It is important to note, however, that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors.
- Here at SurvivorNet, we’re always encouraging people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. But when it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate and make sure any possible signs of cancer are fully and expeditiously addressed.
Allock, 15, first started having persistent headaches after he tested positive for coronavirus on New Year’s 2021. And his condition only got worse by Easter.Read More
“I knew something wasn’t right,” his mother said. “Kane was holding his head and rocking in agony. He couldn’t walk properly.”
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When Allock’s parents brought their son home from the soccer tournament he had to sit out of, they took him to straight to the hospital. But it was only after Allock’s mother “lost her patience” with medical professionals that Kane was admitted to the hospital overnight and given further tests.
“They did some blood tests and put him on oxygen and IV pain relief. The message I was getting was that he was still just suffering from migraines,” Allock’s mother explained. “But when we were being booked into the assessment ward, I spoke to a nurse who seemed to take us more seriously and I told her I’d noticed a dent at the back of Kane’s head.”
The following day, Allock had a seizure. An MRI of his brain revealed that he had an acute hydrocephalus, or buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain, along with a large tumor. That’s when he was rushed in an ambulance for emergency surgery.
“When we got there, we barely spent any time with Kane before we were asked to sign the consent forms for his surgery,” his mother said. “He was quickly taken into theatre [surgery] for an operation to treat the hydrocephalus.
“Just two days later, on 19 April, he went into theatre again, this time for a 7.5-hour operation to remove the tumor… Thankfully, Kane’s amazing surgeon, Mr Mallucci, managed to remove it all.”
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Allock returned to the hospital for further surgery, but he has since made a full recovery from his brain tumor – a low-grade (non-cancerous) pilocytic astrocytoma.
“Kane was discharged just four days after the operation, but on 25 April, he had a wound leak, which meant another trip back to Alder Hey, where he had a couple of extra stitches added,” his mother said. “The wound continued to leak and during a routine follow up appointment on 27 April, it was decided Kane needed to go back into surgery to re-suture the wound.
“It didn’t end there, because they also discovered his hydrocephalus had flared up again and he had to have a spinal drain inserted to fix that.”
Thankfully, Allock’s parents received help from the Ronald McDonald House charity while Allock was fighting for his life.
“To be staying on the site of the hospital, just a short walk away from Kane, was incredible,” his mother said. “The House is amazing and provides a place to call home whilst families are going through the most difficult time of their lives.”
Understanding Brain Tumors
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), brain tumors account for 85 to 90 percent of all primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as the main “processing center” for the nervous system. Normal function of the brain and spinal cord can become difficult if there’s a tumor present that puts pressure on or spreads into nearby normal tissue.
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There are many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Some are more likely to spread into nearby parts of the brain or spinal cord than others. Slow-growing tumors may be considered benign, but even these tumors can cause serious problems.
General Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Symptoms of brain tumors, as a whole, are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. This pressure can be caused by tumor growth, swelling in the brain or blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to the American Cancer Society.
General symptoms may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
But it is important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors. Still, you should always consult with your doctor if any health problems arise.
Advocating for Your Child
Here at SurvivorNet, we always encourage people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. When it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate.
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And even if you’re called ‘pushy’ or people dismiss the concerns you have for your child, it’s important to remember that you never know when speaking up about a seemingly unproblematic issue can lead to a very important diagnosis – cancer or otherwise.
“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.”
Be Pushy, Be Your Own Advocate… Don’t Settle
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles also talked about self advocacy and explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
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“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you have – or your child has– cancer or a tumor based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way make sure you are or your child is getting the proper care and attention. You should also try to remember that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.
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