A mother who thought she was going deaf was stunned to discover she’d a rare and lethal tumour growing in her brain for seven years.
Liz Kirtley, 45, suffered from gradual hearing loss in one ear for a number of years but passed it off as nothing.
It was only when the mother-of-two couldn’t hear on the phone anymore that she decided to go for a hearing test.
She was shocked to be told she actually had a tumour in her brain which resulted in her having a cage screwed into her head for radio-surgery treatment.
Liz said: “I didn’t realise it was anything to worry about because I just thought it was old age as the hearing in my left ear was perfect.
“There are always things that you worry about and go to the doctors for but they turn out to be nothing.
“When I was told I had a two centimetre tumour I was shocked as you just don’t think it would happen to you.
“I thought that size sounds quite small but when I looked at the scans I realised how big it seemed compared to my eyes which was very scary to see.”
Liz was diagnosed in late 2014 and had the radio-surgery in January last year which is where a high dose of radiation is aimed directly at the area where the tumour is.
As the mass was less than three centimetres in size she had the choice of whether to have the treatment to stop the tumour growing or an operation to remove it.
Liz said: “It was hard to decide which choice to make – that was one of the toughest decisions that anyone who has one has to make.”
She had to have a single dose of the radiotherapy treatment where Liz had a cage screwed into her head in four different places which she said was “horrific”.
This allowed the radiation to be aimed at a very small area and Liz was given local anaesthetic to numb the pain from the screws.
She decided against the ten hour operation as it would have kept her off her feet and she has two children, Isobel 13 and nine-year-old Jocelyn.
Liz, from Luton, Beds., added: “Some people do just want the tumour out though.
“It is scary having something in your brain and people don’t know it is there.
“I try not to think about it still being there in my head but as I’m coming closer to my annual scan I’m starting to think about it again.
“If I was not diagnosed it would have kept growing and eventually killed me because there’s not that much room in your head for a brain and a tumour.
“It’s not going to kill me now but if the worse comes to worst and it doesn’t stop growing – they they will have to remove it.”
The rare benign brain tumour is called an acoustic neuroma and approximately 20 people out of one million are diagnosed with it.
Liz’s tumour is on the balance nerve in the canal from the ear to the brain and has expanded into her brain.
She said she believes seeing the MRI scans helped her husband of 17 years, Shaun, to understand the problem as she looked fine on the outside.
As well as affecting her hearing – her facial nerves have also been damaged and so has her balance as the mass grew a couple of milimetres a year.
Specialists won’t be able to tell for sure whether the treatment was successful until three to five years afterwards so Liz will have annual scans.
She now wants to raise awareness for people to get their ears checked if they lose the hearing in just one ear as that can be a cause for concern.
In her spare time Liz volunteers at a dog rescue centre and fosters dogs along with her three pet pooches at home.
She added: “One of the hardest things is getting used to the new ‘normal’ and I have to accept that most of my symptoms will not improve.
“It’s not life ending, but it is life changing. I count myself one of the lucky ones – many brain conditions are killers and there is no cure.”
Liz is now raising money for the Brain Research Trust which supports world class research at University College London’s Institute of Neurology in London.
She will be running the London Marathon in April and you can follow her progress on her Facebook page where you can donate.
Louise Hart from Action on Hearing Loss warned people not to ignore signs that they might be going deaf.
She said: “If you think you’re struggling with hearing loss then it’s best not to ignore it. What you’re looking out for is that one of your ears is worse than the other.
“You can do an online hearing check on our website at actiononhearingloss.org.uk. If you’ve got something from mild hearing loss onwards it will show and we’ll give you a letter you can take to your GP. Because sometimes GPs just think it’s because you’re getting old.
“Acoustic neuromas are very unusual. It’s a benign brain tumour. It just affects the hearing and often the balance. But it’s not cancerous.
“For a lot of people it’s just a ‘watch and wait’ thing. Many people have it for 20 or 30 years and it doesn’t grow. If it grows you can have radiotherapy or an operation.”