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March 8, 2022

Stories from Big C: Mark Bray’s Brain Tumour Diagnosis

On 24 March 2021, Mark was cycling when he unexpectedly fell from his bike. “I think I had a seizure, coming from Caister and I fell off outside the Great Yarmouth courthouse, and I don’t even remember riding home,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t know how I did it – I must have been on autopilot. Luckily I was wearing a cycling helmet – that split right in half.”

Back at home, he collapsed again. His wife Nancy telephoned for an ambulance and Mark was admitted to the James Paget Hospital for blood tests and a head scan. Mark considered himself in good health and couldn’t understand what was causing him to collapse. Soon after his admission, Mark was transferred to Addenbrookes Hospital where he met with a specialist to discuss the results of his head scan.

fFor several months prior to his falls, Mark had been experiencing headaches and increased tiredness, but didn’t think they were anything to be concerned about. However, the results of his head scan said otherwise. Once the specialist read out a list of symptoms associated with brain tumours, it all fell into place.

“I’d had headaches for a long time. I was just taking paracetamol, and it was getting to the stage where I was taking more painkillers than I was supposed to just to cope throughout the day.” Mark also experienced increased tiredness, needing to have a nap before and after work whilst he was working part-time at John Grant School. “I just thought it was because I was getting older – I was only fifty-one, but I thought maybe that’s just what happens when you get older.”

Mark was told that his brain tumour was approximately the size of a tangerine.“I couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, ‘Are you sure you’ve gotten the right person? That isn’t me.’ Nancy, my wife, who was on speakerphone, wasn’t allowed to go up there… I could tell she was really upset as well, and I just burst out crying…I just couldn’t get my head round it”.

Mark was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour called glioblastoma and needed surgery as soon as his seizures were under control. He was transferred back to the James Paget Hospital and spent almost five weeks under close observation whilst staff tried to control his seizures, which were up to 20 per day.

Mark’s Oncologist informed him that without the fall from his bike and subsequent head scan, the tumour may have not been detected soon enough to operate. Mark was so grateful to have been wearing a cycling helmet that day, as without it, it may have been a very different story.

On 26 April, one month after his fall, he underwent surgery. Seven hours later, with twenty-two stitches and staples in his head, Mark woke up in the recovery room.

“They kept me in the recovery area for another four hours… I think I got back on the ward about 3am. They gave me drugs to help me sleep, because I was in a great deal lot of pain. The upsetting part was, no one was allowed to come and see me the whole time I was in the [James] Paget [Hospital], because it was lockdown.”

“Two weeks later we had to go back to Addenbrookes, walked into a room, the Oncologist (Mr Ho) sat there and about four or five ladies…including an end-of-life care specialist, and I thought, what is an end-of-life care specialist doing here? So, I said, can you explain what’s happening? I want to know everything. That’s when he told me they couldn’t get all the tumour out, because it was too deep in my brain,… there is 20% of it left in my brain…”

Coming to terms with the devastating news that they were only able to remove 80% of the tumour and that Mark has terminal cancer has been a challenge. His wife Nancy has been a great support, attending appointments with him, nursing and reassuring him during his seizures, seeking further support, and doing the difficult job of informing family members.

“My wife had to explain what was going on to my two sons and daughter… I had my brother and my sister coming, and I just had to get Nancy to explain things, I just didn’t want to explain it to my own brother and sister. I knew they would be devastated. It wasn’t easy telling them I have terminal cancer… telling any of my friends, really.” “I try and joke about and make fun of it – it’s my way of coping with it, but it’s still absolutely devastating.”

Adjusting to his new way of living has been difficult and it’s meant accepting losses such as cycling and working. “I’ve always ridden a bike, and it was virtually a brand-new bike,… it really upset me.” “I had to quit my job, and that was pretty bad, because I loved my job. I found it so hard. It’s been nine months that I haven’t worked. I’ve really missed out – I really miss the children I worked with. I miss the staff I worked with, and I just know I’ll never get to do that again.”

On the brighter side, Mark’s circumstances have enabled him to spend more time with his wife Nancy. “Nancy worked full-time then, but she’s gone down to part-time,… and we enjoy being able to spend time together.”

Mark and Nancy have utilized the support Big C offers, including welfare advice and support, counseling and Reiki, one of Big C’s complementary therapies. Mark says, “I didn’t even know there was a Big C in Yarmouth… I wasn’t sure about coming here to start with because I didn’t feel it was for me, and I am so glad I did!” Mark has even got involved with the Men’s Support Group. “I had the impression in my head to start with that we would all be talking about cancer and sitting there crying into our cup of coffee, but I soon realised it’s not all about that. We can sit here and have a laugh and a joke, and I find it so refreshing when I’ve left here. I find it very therapeutic.”

Initially, Mark didn’t want to know his prognosis, instead doing what he could to avoid facing it. However, over time he has come to understand his situation more and has compiled a bucket list of things to enjoy while he is able to including theatre shows, bands, WWE wrestling and he is now an official member of the Norfolk Harley-Davidson® Club. Mark’s philosophy is, “There’s always someone worse off than me. It’s something I’ve always said…it does help me… I think laughing and joking about it helps me as well. Live each day as it comes.”


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