A mum feared she would not live to see her children grow up when a routine eye test revealed a satsuma-sized tumour inside her skull.
Natalie Marriott, 40, from Coalville, Leicestershire had always suffered from headaches.
When, five years ago, she began to have blurred vision and dizziness, too, a doctor diagnosed her with migraines.
But having disagreed with the diagnosis, she ignored her medication and opted to carry on with her life, seeking no further help.
It wasn’t until the mum-of-two, who wears glasses for short-sightedness, went for a regular check-up at Specsavers in March this year, that she discovered something was seriously wrong.
“They offered me an OCT (optical coherence tomography) scan for an extra £10, which I agreed to," the primary school financial officer explains.
“The optician noticed some swelling in my optic nerve and, to be on the safe side, they sent me to eye casualty at Leicester Royal Infirmary."
Tests confirmed her optic nerve was swollen, prompting doctors to wonder if she had hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain – but a CT scan later that night revealed a large tumour at the front of her brain.
Marriott, who has a daughter, aged nine, and a son, aged 12 ,with her financial compliance officer husband, Paul Marriott, 41, said: “It was a total shock. I was admitted straight onto the ward to wait for an MRI scan.
“Luckily, Paul had been waiting around, so was with me when they broke the news.
“I was in tears, thinking that was it and I was going to die. You just think the worst straight away.
“I kept saying to Paul, ‘What about the kids?’ My first thought was not being at my daughter’s wedding.”
Discharged from hospital on the Saturday, Marriott was given an appointment on the Monday with a specialist at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where she was told she needed surgery the following morning.
And at 9am on Tuesday, March 23 she had a five hour operation to remove the tumour, which left her with a jagged scar across her head and a shaven strip of hair.
“The surgeon said the tumour looked the size of a satsuma or a lime and he thought it had been growing for about 10 years,” she says.
“I had to have a craniotomy, which entails removing part of the skull to get to the brain, so I’ve got a scar from ear to ear and a lovely shaved patch at the front."
When she was discharged on the Friday, she left the hospital with two black eyes, caused by surgeons peeling back her forehead during the op.
“They said that was normal for a craniotomy," she explains. "They were so swollen I could barely see out of them.
“They kept giving me blue rubber gloves of ice water to rest on my face.”
Thankfully test results revealed the tumour was not cancerous.
Instead Marriott was told the growth was a grade one meningioma on her front left side – a tumour that forms on membranes which cover the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull.
A post-operative MRI scan, which she had on March 26, showed the tumour had been fully removed, meaning the only treatment Marriott needs now is regular follow-up scans throughout her life, to monitor any regrowth.
“It felt surreal because it all happened so fast – from finding out on the Thursday to a five-hour op to remove it on the Tuesday,” she says.
“I didn’t really have time to process anything, so it didn’t feel real. Even now, if I didn’t have the scar and the stubble, I probably wouldn’t believe it had happened.
“I’m really grateful to the nurses and doctors on the ward for the care they gave me. I can’t thank them enough.
“I’ve got a nomination bracelet and I’ve had a charm engraved with ‘thankful’ and the date of my surgery – as a reminder.”
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Marriott’s message now to anyone with mild symptoms that mimic her own is to keep pushing doctors for answers and never to miss an eye test.
“I would definitely encourage everyone to take up regular eye tests," she says.
“I’ve been back into my opticians in Coalville with a box of chocolates for the staff, to say thank you for spotting the lump.
“I learned to live with my symptoms and ignored them, so the outcome could have been much worse," she adds.
“My advice is not to be like me, but to keep persisting if you have unusual symptoms, until you discover the cause. The sooner these issues are identified the better, as they’re often easier to treat if they’re found early.”
Shailan Ruparelia, store director at Specsavers in Coalville is also keen to encourage people to have regular eye tests.
“Natalie’s story demonstrates just how important routine sight testing is," she says.
“And of course if you notice any changes in your vision or start experiencing any sudden-onset symptoms that don’t subside, it’s vital you see an optician.
“We’re really pleased we were able to help Natalie get the care she needed, and we wish her all the best in her recovery.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.