A mum-of-four who saw her doctor suspecting she had conjunctivitis discovered the same day she actually had a brain tumour growing into her skull and eye.
Kirsty Drury, 45, a programme delivery manager for Transport for London (TFL), was terrified when she was told her bloodshot and swollen right eye was because of a potentially deadly mass lurking in her brain, after thinking she just needed optical drops.
Kirsty, who has four children and lives in Tring, Hertfordshire, with her husband, Pete, 57, a service manager for TFL and youngest child, said: “When I was first told I had a brain tumour, I thought it meant I was going to die.”
She added: “When you walk into the doctor’s surgery with suspected conjunctivitis and walk out with a brain tumour, you can’t be blamed for thinking the worst.
“I feel so lucky to be here and to show that there is life after a brain tumour diagnosis.”
Kirsty’s nightmare began in November 2019, when she noticed she had a swollen right eye.
She said: “I thought I had an eye infection and went to get eye drops from the pharmacist, who suggested I see a doctor, so I booked a GP appointment.
“It seemed a bit drastic as I was sure it was just conjunctivitis, but I thought it was best to follow the advice.”
Kirsty’s doctor immediately referred her to the eye hospital at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.
She said: “I was sent for a CT scan at the hospital and later that same day, I was taken into a room to discuss the results.
“I had no idea what was coming. The reality of my condition was a total shock.”
The scan revealed that Kirsty had spheno-orbital meningioma, a brain tumour which commonly grows inward, indenting and causing pressure on the brain or spinal cord.
Kirsty said: “I didn’t want to know how big the tumour was, but it was slowly growing into my skull and into the chewing muscles of my mouth.
“Doctors told me that 80 per cent of meningiomas are benign, but there would be no way of knowing for sure until I had surgery.
“I honestly thought I was going to die.”
Kirsty was referred to a neurosurgeon who recommended an operation to remove the mass.
She said: “I had a very bleak mindset about it. There were statistics about how less than 12 per cent of people with brain tumours survive for five years after diagnosis.
“I felt so scared.”
Kirsty’s surgery consultation was booked for December 2019, with a plan to operate by March but, when the pandemic hit, her procedure was postponed.
She said: “Even though it was a serious operation, it wasn’t considered an emergency because the tumour was probably benign and slow-growing, so it was pushed back.
“I had to sit tight, which was actually a relief because I was terrified of having the surgery.”
She added: “It wasn’t until September that I started ringing up again, asking when my surgery would be.
“Although I was coping pretty well and running regularly was helping to distract me, my mental health wasn’t great, because I was convinced that I was going to have a bad outcome – that I’d find out my tumour was growing faster than expected or that it was cancer.
“It was the first thing I thought of in the morning, the last thing I thought about at night and sometimes it woke me up, too – I couldn’t get any inner peace.”
In November 2020, Kirsty went under the knife at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to have most of her tumour removed and, while not all could be taken out without risking damage to her facial muscles, the operation confirmed that the tumour was not cancerous.
Kirsty said: “I returned to work this February and I have been slowly recovering at my own pace.
“There are certain side effects from the procedure. I struggle a bit with my memory recall and at work I find that I need to read over things a few times to make sure I remember.”
She added: “I have a slight dent in the side of my head and a scar along the top of my head but other than that, I feel incredibly lucky.”
Kirsty now has an MRI scan every six months to see if the remainder of the tumour has begun to grow again, but no longer has to take any medication.
She continued: “Funding for charities like Brain Tumour Research is so important, because there’s still so much that we don’t know.”
She added: “In my case, my doctors and I are unsure what we can do to stop my tumour from growing back.
“But I’m just so glad I went to the doctor when I thought I simply had an eye infection.
“I’m horrified to think of what could have happened if the tumour had been left to eat away at my skull and face.”
She added: “Now I feel like I’ve got my life back.”
Hugh Adams, head of stakeholder relations at Brain Tumour Research, is delighted that Kirsty is speaking out about the charity.
He said: “We first came across Kirsty on social media after she shared important information about brain tumours from London Underground’s ‘All on the Board’ during International Brain Tumour Awareness Week.”
He added: “We’re very excited to have her support and look forward to working with her to help raise more awareness of brain tumours in the future.”
Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure.
To donate to Brain Tumour Research, visit: www.braintumourresearch.org/donation/donate-now