Philippa's Story

Philippa's Story

On December 31st, 2012, I happily posted on Facebook that after an amazing year of travel around the world, a semester working in London and Christmas spent with family in England, I couldn’t wait to see what 2013 would bring.

I had no idea that, at 20 years old, 2013 would include a CT scan, at least 4 MRIs and 2 brain surgeries. In the winter of 2012 I participated in the Ship for World Youth program organized by the Japanese government and in the Fall I had been living and working in London, UK and traveling around Europe on my days off. In November I had been selected as my university’s Engineers Without Borders Junior Fellow for 2013 (my dream since I was 12) – so a lot of things to be excited about.

On January 5th, 2013, while flying home from London on my own, I had a seizure in my sleep – fortunately witnessed by a doctor who wrote a full description for me. When we landed in St John’s, my parents were greeted by me – accompanied by paramedics who were called to meet the plane.

After a visit to the Emergency Department, followed by a CT scan a couple of days later, I was still blissfully unaware that anything significant may be wrong. This blissful ignorance was shattered after the scan as I was diagnosed with a low grade glioma in my left frontal lobe. I was immediately hospitalized – even though I felt perfectly fine – and spent an entire week waiting for my biopsy, feeling like I was in the wrong place. Having been used to traveling by myself, being confined to a hospital ward for 2 weeks was near torture so I was extremely lucky to have such supportive family and close friends, a private room, a hospital close to home and amazing nurses and doctors to help maintain my sanity.

The biopsy indicated either a slow growing pilocytic astrocytoma (grade 1) or a slow growing grade 2 astrocytoma – fortunately in an operable location, so as brain tumours go, pretty good. My radiation oncologist went through my options – watch and wait until something gets worse, likely requiring radiation within the next three years or remove as much of the tumour as possible; however, even the team of doctors said there was little evidence to back one option as superior to the other which resulted in months of uncertainty.

As I am the kind of person who tackles things head on, resection was my choice since this gave me more of a sense of control over my life. However, after having already missed two weeks of engineering classes for my first surgery, I was anxious to get back to university and determined to stay with my class and graduate on time. My team of doctors and nurses were incredible and I learned the importance of having a medical team who really understands who you are as a person and what you need rather than just treating the medical condition.

I had the surgery on Monday, May 6th, 2013 (immediately after the semester finished), which left me with a partially shaved head and temporary paralysis in my right side. While movement in my leg came back quickly, it was not until the Saturday night when I had full movement of my arm (a very exciting moment!). Although my right arm is still weaker than my left and there are a few things that no longer feel natural (like kicking a soccer ball and doing up buttons), I have recovered movement.

As for my hair (which has been my identifying feature since I was little because it is so curly), bows are conveniently in style this season and are an excellent disguise (please see the picture with the lighthouse, taken 3 weeks after surgery), for those of you who, like me, feel a little insecure rocking a partly/fully-shaved head.

On my 6-week MRI, there was no sign of the tumour, which was excellent news. My neurosurgeon approved travel to Europe (and Africa for Fall 2014 provided everything is stable) and I am writing this from England after having worked in London for a month (and traveled to Belgium and Prague, Czech Republic). While I still have to be careful not to overdo things, every day I see improvement.

I really learned whom I could count on – while some friends were disappointingly vacant, others really went above and beyond what I could have asked for. I couldn’t have gotten through the last 6 months without the never-ending support, love and positivity of my family and close friends (my grandmother even affectionately calls my scar “my lucky horseshoe”).

Share This

Featured Story

Childhood Brain Tumour Signs & Symptoms

Earlier this year, you gave us your feedback in a survey on brain tumour signs and symptoms. One of the things we did with that survey was to compile a list of the most common signs & symptoms for children. Now, as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we are sharing compelling quotes from that survey and urging you to share them with this link to see the symptoms: Thank you!

Learn more


Anthony's Story is Our Story

I would like to take the opportunity to share "our" story. It’s actually my best friend Anthony's story, but I use the term "our"...

Learn more

Kate's Mum's Story

"May 2006 is a month I will never forget. That was the moment that everything became before the cancer, and after the cancer. It was a...

Learn more

Upcoming Events

  • 21/Oct/2018: Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon 2018: Toronto, ON... Learn more >
  • 24/Oct/2018: Ottawa Support Group: Meets at the Maplesoft Centre at 1500 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa, ON.... Learn more >
  • 25/Oct/2018: Virtual Support Group East: Virtual Support Group for Eastern Canada... Learn more >
  • 27/Oct/2018: National Conference - Montreal: Hôtel Ruby Foo's, Montreal, QC & diffusion en direct... Learn more >
View All Events >
Thank you to the donors whose contributions make this website and all programs, services and research possible.

Copyright © 2018 Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Charitable Registration #BN118816339RR0001