Diagnosed with a brain tumour as a baby, Lauren Nicholls, now 16, wants to raise awareness of the long-term effects a tumour can have and the charity that is helping young people like her.
The Halifax teenager is supporting The Brain Tumour Charity’s Young Adult Services, a lifeline for young people living with a brain tumour diagnosis that ensures they are not alone.
A lack of understanding of the long-term effects brain tumour for a brain tumour can leave many young people feeling isolated, affecting their friendships, schoolwork and their mental health.
This is something that Lauren knows only too well.
“It’s been really hard over the last few years because everyone judged you at school and I had a lot of time out of school and people couldn’t understand why it was very difficult.”
Lauren was first diagnosed when she was just over a year old in January 2004. Her parents had noticed that she had started dragging her right foot.
Doctors put it down to “muscle imbalance” but symptoms increased and her parents knew there was something more serious going on.
Lauren’s dad, Craig, said: “After about the fourth time at the doctors, Lauren was getting worse. Eventually, she was sent straight to the hospital for a scan and she was diagnosed as having an astrocytoma brain tumour.
“It was massive shock, I can still picture that time I heard about it in Halifax hospital and I was literally just walking around the room crying with Lauren.
"It felt very alone and it happened so quickly."
The diagnosis led to the first of two major brain surgeries for Lauren, the first over 13 hours. This was then followed by rounds of chemotherapy as she was too young for radiotherapy.
Satisfied that the surgery went well, Lauren went home and continued her chemotherapy treatment.
All was well until four years later in 2007, when she was just five years old, when a regular scan revealed more tumour growth and a second 11-hour operation followed.
This time, Lauren was old enough to undergo radiotherapy treatment, that went well and finished for Lauren in 2008. She was now just six years old.
Lauren said: “The treatment when I was little was hard. It’s really impacted on my friendships growing up and at school I didn’t really have any friends.
“People are like I don’t want to be your friend, you’re a bit different. They don’t know how to respond and this is hard to deal with.”
Added to this, the stresses all young people go through with studying for schoolwork and last year was particularly difficult for Lauren.
“Memory is the hardest at the moment, I struggle to remember things and cos I can only use one hand it slows me down – holding a knife and fork I can’t cut things up," Lauren explained. "It’s a lot to deal with but it’s going OK.
“And then I started to get dizzy and headaches but we went back to the hospital and the doctor said it was down to stress and it affected my work and my sleep.
Being open about Lauren's experience has helped the family and their wider circle understand the difficulties that she continues to go through.
Craig said: “A few years ago we had lots of people asking what was wrong with Lauren so we told them and explained it all and what she’s gone though and since then everyone been a lot better.
“We needed to have that discussion, that explanation to help people understand. It seemed to work.”
For this inspirational and resilient young woman, things have turned around. There are no more scans, just check-ups and she now has a core set of close friends who are supportive and understanding.
Lauren said: “It’s taken me a long time to get but now I have really bunch of really good friends who are nice to me.
“I’m really passionate about drama but my writing and concentration skills need a lot of work because of everything’s that happened.
“I’m hoping to push ahead with my A-levels and I’d like to go into something involved films and drama.”
Lauren is supporting the work The Brain Tumour Charity does to advance research into the disease and their Young Adult Services, a vital lifeline to those aged between 16-30 who are going through similar experiences.
The services offer information and support so that anyone affected is not alone.
For more information on the charity, visit www.thebraintumourcharity.org