Woman who attributed seizure to 'bad hangover' ultimately diagnosed with brain tumour

Danielle Freeman believed her seizure was down to a bad hangover but she had a brain tumour.  (Collect/PA Real Life)
Danielle Freeman believed her seizure was down to a bad hangover but she had a brain tumour. (Collect/PA Real Life)

A women who thought the seizure she had at work was caused by a "bad hangover" actually had a brain tumour.

Danielle Freeman, 23, from Portree on the Isle of Skye, had enjoyed a number of drinks with friends on a night out in the summer of 2019.

When she woke up feeling rough, she assumed she had drunk too much and went to do her shift at the fast food outlet she worked in, only to experience a terrifying two minute seizure.

“I was on the headset at the drive-thru and I suddenly made a screaming noise," the now personal trainer and nursery worker recalls.

“I don’t remember any of this, but my boyfriend and my flatmate both worked at McDonald’s with me and came rushing over.”

“It was my flatmate who saw me first. He saw me screaming and thought I’d seen a fly as I hate bugs. But then I slowly started to fall to the floor and a manager caught me.

“I know now it was a grand mal seizure, one that causes loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions, and lasted upwards of two minutes. I then passed out for another five.

“When I woke up there was a paramedic, my boyfriend and my manager all standing over me and I had no idea what was going on. I felt so woozy.”

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Freeman's brain scan. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Freeman's brain scan. (Collect/PA Real Life)

So disorientated that she could not find the words to tell the paramedic her name or where she was, Freeman was taken to hospital, where she was observed for several hours before being referred for an MRI scan in a few months time.

While she waited for her appointment, Freeman says she was warned by doctors against too much partying.

“I was told I was likely over drinking," she explains. "And to just have three or four drinks if I went out and to space them out with glasses of water.

“I felt really bad – like it was my fault.”

Watch: Woman loses all her childhood memories after life saving surgery to remove a brain tumour

When she was invited on another night out with workmates in December 2019, she followed doctors’ orders to the letter, limiting herself to just a small number of single shot drinks and having glasses of water in between drinking alcohol.

But the next morning when she woke up her boyfriend told her she'd experienced another seizure in her sleep.

"I stopped drinking after that,” she says.

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Freeman in hospital after her surgery. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Freeman in hospital after her surgery. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Looking back, Freeman now realises she started showing signs that something was wrong back in 2018, when she suddenly developed a gruelling fatigue.

“I couldn’t get out of bed to do things," she says.

“My workouts started to slip because I was so tired all the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the energy. I was just so drained.”

“My boss at the gym I worked in at the time suggested I had depression, but I knew it wasn’t that. I was just dead tired and seemed down as I was so frustrated about how I was feeling.”

It wasn't until 2020, when she received the results of her MRI scan, that the real cause of her fatigue and seizures was revealed.

“I got a letter explaining that there was a benign mass on my right temporal lobe," she says.

“Because it was benign, I wasn’t as worried as I could have been, but knowing there was something in my brain that shouldn’t be there was horrible.”

At a follow up appointment, Freeman was told the scan had detected a pea sized mass in her brain that could have been there for as long as seven years.

Read more: Brain tumour signs and symptoms

The scar Freeman was left with after her brain surgery. (Collect/PA Real Life)
The scar Freeman was left with after her brain surgery. (Collect/PA Real Life)

It explained her fatigue and doctors reassured her that it had nothing to do with her lifestyle.

“A consultant explained my brain couldn’t process the hangovers because of the tumour, but that having a few drinks on a night out had not caused it.

“They gave me the option of either having immediate surgery or just watching and waiting, with regular scans checking the tumour, so I decided to wait.”

Advised that the tumour might not grow for a number of years, Freeman managed her symptoms with daily anti-seizure medication, also cutting out alcohol and following a healthy lifestyle.

While her seizures stopped when she was no longer having any alcohol, a scan at the end of 2020 revealed that the tumour was growing.

“The tumour had grown ever so slightly, but it scared me," she says. "That’s when I was officially given the diagnosis of a grade two brain tumour.

“And I agreed to having surgery to remove it.”

Read more: Woman's conjunctivitis turns out to be a brain tumour

Initially deemed non-urgent, Freeman's case was escalated when her eyesight became blurry in January 2021, caused by the tumour pressing on her brain.

She was admitted to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital for the five hour procedure to remove the tumour in April 2021.

Discharged after three days, she then had six weeks of radiotherapy and has been having chemotherapy since last August, which is due to end next month.

“My energy levels are so much better now," she says. "I work out up to five days a week. The chemotherapy can make me tired, but I feel so much better.

“I can even have the odd drink now, but just have to make sure I take my seizure medication.”

Freeman and her partner, Connor. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Freeman and her partner, Connor. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Following her experience Freeman is now helping to promote The Brain Tumour Charity’s Better Safe Than Tumour campaign, which launched this week.

It aims to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours which, in adults, include persistent and severe headaches, changes in vision, seizures, balance problems or dizziness, memory problems, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, speech difficulties and numbness or tingling in the extremities.

It also highlights the importance of linking symptoms.

“More awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours would have stopped me from blaming myself so much," she says.

“I also would have known not to brush off the symptoms and instead to push for answers and even to suggest being sent for an MRI scan at the point when I started suffering with fatigue.

“This campaign will really help people with symptoms to ask more questions and understand what could be happening to them.

“In turn, this could lead to an all-important early diagnosis that could save lives.”

For more information go to https://www.headsmart.org.uk/

Additional reporting PA real Life.