A mum-of-three is urging people who experience panic attacks to ‘fully investigate’ their symptoms, after discovering hers were due to a brain tumour the size of an apple.
Catherine Wilcockson, 36, had felt exhausted for a year but dismissed how she felt as just standard tiredness.
But in December last year, while at her daughter’s nativity play, Catherine had a panic attack that felt like an out-of-body experience. She went to see her GP, who thought Catherine was suffering from derealisation and prescribed her antidepressants.
The medication had no effect and Catherine continued to have panic attacks until May, when she had a seizure, falling and hitting her head in front of her daughters Shani, nine, and Christie, 16.
An ambulance took the teaching assistant to Northern General Hospital, where a CT scan to check for damage after the fall revealed a giant brain tumour.
Catherine believes she had the tumour since her childhood, remembering telling her parents she thought she had a brain tumour in her early twenties.
Thankfully surgeons were able to remove most of her tumour, but Catherine is still at risk of it growing back. She is now waiting for her second round of chemotherapy.
The mum is sharing her story to raise money for the charity Brain Tumour Research and encourage other people to push for medical tests if they feel something is wrong.
Catherine said: ‘I went to my GP in January and I explained the situation to her and she said “I think you’ve got something called derealisation”.
‘I’ve always been an up and out girl and got on with life but I didn’t feel right. She gave me some [antidepressents] tablets and I felt like they weren’t working. I had to take three weeks off work in January.
‘[My GP] increased [the dosage] but then I was still having episodes while I was at work. But I thought they were panic attacks with the derealisation.
‘Obviously they need to investigate more into people in regards to something as serious as what I had.
‘They need to up their game instead of leaving things because I could have had a massive seizure and died.
‘I watched videos about how people [with mental illnesses such as derealisation and panic attacks] felt and it totally matched how I felt.
‘After what I’ve been through with [the misdiagnosis], I’d advise others to get somebody to obviously fully investigate into how they’re feeling because you only get one brain.
‘From what I’ve experienced doctors and patients definitely need to be more aware as well. If they’re not well then follow it through.’
Catherine believes the tumour has been growing since she was six years old and says its presence has affected her personality and her day-to-day life.
‘Nothing major happened to me but I can remember when I was a child getting up at night and I’d just go the toilet and be sick and then I’d get back in bed,’ she explains.
‘That happened quite a few times to me a few months apart. I was about ten. And apparently this tumour I have does start between the age of six and eight years old.
‘I got taken to Northern General and I had a feeling before I went in – I even said to [the doctor] “do you think I’ve got a brain tumour?” If I didn’t have that feeling I wouldn’t have asked that question but I knew. I knew.
‘When I saw it a few times on a screen it looked about the size of an apple.
‘One of the consultants said “you’ve had this for years”. And when I was speaking to my surgeon he said I could have had it for 20 years but I think it was longer because it started when I got sick as a child.
‘I think [the tumour] took over my personality because now it’s like I’m a different person.
‘I know this sounds really bad and no one wants a brain tumour but it was something I’d lived with all those years and I knew I’d had one and to me I felt like I was lucky that mine was only a low grade tumour.
‘It is treatable, it can grow back. But hopefully if it grows back in five or ten years there will be new solutions that they can use and I think it’s really important that money is raised for Brain Tumour Research.’
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