New mum’s brain tumour shock after breastfeeding misdiagnosis

News Desk
Authored by News Desk
Posted: Monday, March 25, 2024 - 20:14

A Plymouth woman who was diagnosed with a brain tumour after being told her symptoms were due to breastfeeding is sharing her story during Brain Tumour Awareness Month.

Fiona Donald, 41, from Plympton was diagnosed with a meningioma in November 2018, 14 months after giving birth to her son, Ralph. Doctors told the then 35-year-old the pain in her neck was due to her breastfeeding posture.

During her year-long maternity leave, the part-time Heles Secondary School teacher also suffered with constant pins and needles in her hand and began to drag her foot.

The mother-of-two said: “My symptoms started the day after my c-section. The pins and needles occurred almost instantly as did a surge of pressure against my skull. Every morning I woke up with a severe headache. I also struggled emptying my bladder. All symptoms which didn’t seem uncommon after having a baby.

 “I was breastfeeding Ralph and by the evening had a pain in my neck. The doctor told me it was caused by the way I was feeding but I knew it was something more; I had breast fed my first son for three years and this had never happened with him. I went to the doctor three times over the course of a year before I got an answers.”

An MRI scan revealed the shocking discovery of a mass on her brain, its location responsible for the pain in her body. She had a 13-hour operation, that caused compression damage in Fiona’s right leg and two blood clots on her brain.

She said: “Everything happened quickly. At the time, my eldest, Rory was four and Ralph who was one was still being breast fed. I thought being low-grade, treatment would be straight forward. However when the doctor explained surgery could leave me with life changing injuries including potential speech loss, inability to breathe without a ventilator, paralysis from the neck down, stroke and impact my cognition, I was scared that my children would never know the real me and that I would be changed after the procedure.”

Despite suffering minor complications after surgery, Fiona spent three days in intensive care and two days on the Moorgate Ward at University Hospital Plymouth, before returning home to recover.

She is now monitored with regular scans, crediting her speedy recovery to being a keen runner.

On Sunday 28 April, Fiona will be taking part in the Plymouth Half Marathon, fundraising for the charity Brain Tumour Research.

She said: “Ten weeks after surgery I was back to running and I’m able to run seven miles comfortably most days. However, I haven’t ran a half marathon distance since before having my children, so my goal is to just get around the course and try to raise awareness of this awful disease. My eldest son Rory is also taking part in his own challenge by completing 12 miles in school before the event and then running the last 1.1 miles on the Hoe on the day of the marathon. I’m extremely proud of him”.

Fiona is sharing her story during March which is Brain Tumour Awareness Month (BTAM), adding: “I’m sometimes a little unsteady on my feet and suffer with head pain if I wear my hair in a certain way, as it pulls on my scar. I also live with the very real possibility that the tumour could come back, but I feel lucky mine was operable. Other brain tumour patient stories aren’t always as hopeful. I want to help change this but we need investment into research to do this.”

BTAM is an annual campaign that runs throughout March, culminating in Wear A Hat Day which takes place this year on Thursday 28 March, this year supported by Novocure.

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumours since records began in 2002.

Katrina Jones, head of community fundraising at Brain Tumour Research, said: “Fiona’s story is devastating although not unusual. Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. We’re grateful to Fiona for taking the time to share her diagnosis with us and wish her well with her ongoing scans and her training for the Plymouth half Marathon. We are sending our good luck to Fiona for the race.”

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and 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. The charity is the driving force behind the call for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia.

To donate to Brain Tumour Research via Fiona’s challenge, please visit: