Woman whose symptoms were dismissed as menopause diagnosed with brain tumour

A mum who spent four years being told she was suffering from the menopause was devastated when a routine eye test revealed she actually had a brain tumour.

Helen Phillips, 55, claims she went to the doctors 15 times over the years with a long list of symptoms, including acute sinus headaches and dizziness – but was never sent for a scan.

It wasn’t until the mum of one from Selby, North Yorkshire, went to the opticians that the cause of her severe headaches, fainting, and vomiting was revealed.

Despite multiple visits to her GP, Helen claims she was only treated for menopause and depression.

She said: ‘I was never offered a scan, yet the headaches were so bad I wanted to pull my eyeballs out.

‘I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what else I could do.’

‘My quality of life and health slowly deteriorated, to the point of being incapable of doing anything due to tiredness.’

When Helen attended a routine opticians appointment in November 2020, she was sent straight to hospital after the opticians noticed a shadow behind her eye.

She said: ‘The optician noticed shadows and doctors later told me I had Grade 1 Olfactory Groove Meningioma, a slow growing, non-cancerous type of brain tumour.

‘I was so close to losing my sight and being paralysed. I was like a zombie and the doctors at York said that I shouldn’t have been able to walk into the hospital.’

Thankfully Helen’s brain tumour was not cancerous and she didn’t more aggressive treatment – and just a week after her diagnosis, she had the tumour removed.

However, doctors decided it was too dangerous to remove the entire tumour as part of it had grown entwined with her optical nerves.

Helen said: “I have 3-5% of the tumour left in and I now have annual scans to check for any regrowth or change.”

A year on from her surgery, the mum said she has learnt a lot from support groups, and wants others to know more about symptoms so they aren’t dismissed like she was.

She said: ‘I suffered with flu-type symptoms, headaches and I couldn’t cope with noise, even the radio would drive me mad.”

‘I had unexplained aches and pains, vomiting, dizziness, tinnitus, bowel issues, anxiety, loss of sense of smell, hand tremors, tiredness and fainting.’

Helen also suffered from a loss of interest in socialising and motivation – before finally being correctly diagnosed and having the tumour removed.

Helen who has been married to husband Duncan for 35 years said: ‘For 18 months he did everything around the house and with the horses and other animals we have.

‘I was sleeping so much, I had no capability or interest in doing anything and that was really hard on those closest to me.”

‘It impacted my relationship with my family and friends as my anxiety was sky high.’

Left bewildered with no answers as to why her health was suffering, Helen says she is ‘angry’ that she suffered for so long.

She said: ‘I didn’t have depression, I had a brain tumour and it was infuriating to not get answers.

‘My symptoms were constantly blamed on peri-menopause and I feel that I wasn’t taken seriously.

‘If you are reading this and think your symptoms could be more than what you have been told, push for a CT scan.’

Helen credits the Brain Tumour Charity for supporting her through her diagnosis and surgery, and is back working part time and riding horses again.

She said: ‘I am grateful to be alive, I have a new lease of life.

‘I was numb and living in a zombie state. My skin was grey and I felt lifeless but now I’m back to my old self.’

Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group have been approached for a response.

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