A mum-of-three who says she feels like an “ugly” version of herself after surgery to remove a brain tumour is encouraging others to join her in dressing up to boost self-esteem and mental health during lockdown.
Sarah Kavanagh, aged 36, from Northolt, is determined to make the most of herself by carefully selecting outfits for 20 consecutive days. Her efforts have already seen her raise more than £1,250 for the charity Brain Tumour Research
She said: “I am living with permanent disfigurement since having surgery to remove a brain tumour. Even though I had my surgery in 2018, it still takes a lot for me to look in the mirror. I don’t feel like I am the person I was before; I am an ugly version. It has taken me a long time to learn to live with the scars and indentations in my head even though time has passed and the scars have healed. I struggle finding the confidence to dress up, being especially conscious that my misshapen skull doesn’t show, but tell myself that with or without this disease we all deserve to feel beautiful.”
In addition to the impact the treatment had on her physical health, Sarah also suffered psychological issues she puts down to the fact that she suffered symptoms for 10 years before she was diagnosed, having been told on numerous occasions that she was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks rather than a brain tumour.
Sarah was finally diagnosed in February 2018 after she had a seizure at home and was taken to Northwood Park Hospital. Doctors thought she had suffered a stroke and gave her a CT scan followed by an MRI which led to her diagnosis. At the time Sarah had two daughters aged six months and three years.
Sarah added: “For ten years I suffered on and off with episodes like feeling I was about to faint, shaking a lot and smelling phantom odours like gas and being afraid that something was about to explode. Every time I had a hospital appointment, I came away feeling like I was going mad. Eventually, after I had a seizure, a neurologist confirmed the tumour had been there for at least 10 years, explaining my previous episodes. A whole decade when not only I, but also my family, questioned my sanity.”
Sarah underwent surgery and learnt that she had a grade 2 oligodendroglioma. She still lives with remaining brain tumour as surgeons were unable to remove it all and continues to have seizures. Doctors are adjusting the levels of Sarah’s medication to try to bring them under control.
Sarah is taking part in the charity Brain Tumour Research’s 20 for 20 challenge by dressing up each day for 20 consecutive days and inviting her friends and family to do the same while adding a donation to her fundraising page. She has raised more than £1,250 to date. Sarah is hoping to reach the magic figure of £2,740 – enough to sponsor a day of research at one of Brain Tumour Research’s Centres of Excellence.
“I am doing this to raise money for Brain Tumour Research as there is so much we still need to know about this disease. I am also doing it for my self-esteem. I know that so many people are struggling with their mental health during lockdown and I hope that maybe they will read my story and perhaps they will take part with me and it will help them,” Sarah added.
Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
Brain Tumour Research has joined forces with 19 lesser-known cancer charities to create a new, unique and exciting 20-day fundraising challenge in response to the disruption faced because of Covid-19. Registrants challenge themselves, friends, family and colleagues in fun ways to raise money and can choose from a list of activities or create their own and complete them across 20 days.
Charlie Allsebrook, Community Fundraising Manager for Brain Tumour Research, said: “Sarah’s story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. What’s more, less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years compared with an average of 50% across all cancers. We cannot allow this desperate situation to continue.
“We are so grateful to Sarah for coming up with this innovative fundraising idea and we wish her all the best for the rest of the challenge. Like so many of our fantastic fundraisers, Sarah isn’t letting lockdown get in the way of her efforts and we’re sure she will inspire lots of people to get involved and donate.”
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. The charity is calling 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 and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.
To donate to Sarah’s fundraising, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Sarah-kavanagh11
To take part in the 20 for 20 challenge go to www.braintumourresearch.org/fundraise/20-for-20
(Source: Brain Tumour Research)