A Luton teenager visited doctors 30 times over a two year period before finally being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
When Jennifer McCrea was 13, her mum Amanda took her to the doctor after she started complaining about headaches, fainting episodes and personality changes.
She was also suffering seizures, sickness, numbness and weakness in the left side and head tilt.
“We were told my symptoms were caused by puberty,” says Jennifer of Wardown Park, Luton.
“Between the ages of 13-15, Mum took me to the doctors at least 30 times, but my symptoms were repeatedly put down to teenage hormones.
“I was told ‘Oh everyone goes through it, you’ll be fine,
“But from being calm and laid-back, I used to lose it and smash things up – none of my friends were behaving like that – it was hardly ‘normal.
“Even when I was referred to a paediatrician, he 100 per cent believed my moods were caused by puberty, as well as my headaches, seizures, weakness and numbness.
“They made me feel like I was just a stroppy teenager.
“I even started doubting myself, thinking there was nothing wrong me with. But, deep down, I just knew it was far more than teenage hormones.”
Even when they tried to tell doctors Jennifer had already started puberty early – at nine – they still insisted her symptoms were hormonal.
At 15, Jennifer was finally diagnosed when she had a brain scan at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge and was told she had a brain tumour.
She was told the tumour was inoperable due to its position in the right frontal lobe. She was in and out of hospital as they tried to get her seizures under control, and missed most of her GCSEs.
When the tumour grew bigger into the right temporal lobe, it became possible to operate
In September 2014, Jennifer had an 11-hour craniotomy and surgeons removed – “debulked” as much of the tumour as they could, but couldn’t remove it all because of risk of paralysis.
Biopsy tests revealed she had a slow-growing cancerous oligodendroglioma.
Now Jennifer, who has just become a Young Ambassador with The Brain Tumour Charity to help raise awareness, is studying an Open University degree in English Literature and creative writing.
She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to her delayed diagnosis.
Jennifer now has scans twice a year and will face more surgery over the years to debulk her tumour.
“Every morning first thing like clockwork, I get sick because of the pressure in my brain,” says Jennifer.
“If my parents had had access to an awareness campaign like The Brain Tumour Charity’s HeadSmart headsmart.org.uk maybe my symptoms wouldn’t have been dismissed as puberty and I may have been diagnosed earlier.
“HeadSmart’s figures showing teenagers lag behind younger children in diagnosis times – 10 weeks on average compared to 6.5 weeks, proves that I’m not an isolated example.
“Now I have become a Young Ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity and I am passionate about helping to raise awareness to get teenagers diagnosed sooner.
“I am determined to live my life to the full and I am taking part in the Iceland Trek in July to raise money for the charity.”
Hayley Epps, campaign manager for The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Brain tumours kill more teenagers and adults under 40 in the UK than any other form of cancer.
“HeadSmart has two aims: to save lives and reduce long-term disability by bringing down diagnosis times.
“A key part of that is to make sure healthcare professionals and young people themselves are aware of the warning signs of a brain tumour in this age group.
“As Jennifer and her family’s ordeal shows, these symptoms can easily be mistaken for other problems that typically affect teenagers – for example, mood swings caused by hormonal changes or headaches caused by the stress of exam-related pressure.
“Another issue is that teenagers tend to be reluctant to talk to their parents about health issues. By the time it becomes obvious to the rest of the family that something is very wrong, the tumour may be more difficult to treat than it would have been a few weeks earlier.
“In some cases, a delay to diagnosis can even mean the difference between life and death.”
In a bid to spread the message, HeadSmart has produced a new video aimed specifically at young people.
It features a stick person named Sam demonstrating the different symptoms that can signal a possible brain tumour and an accompanying song http://bit.ly/HeadSmartAnimation