A heavily pregnant mother who thought her headache was caused by anxiety was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of two golf balls.
Katie Galan-Wilkinson, 35, started waking up at night on the 32nd week of pregnancy with a severe headache and a strange metallic smell in her nose.
She was approaching her birth date for Baby Mario, now one, and was traveling to Italy with her two younger children and her husband Daniel.
At 39 weeks of age, she had a seizure while sleeping – tests showed that she had stage three anaplastic astrocytoma – a rare and incurable type of brain tumor.
Somerset’s Katie said, “Within 48 hours, I no longer thought I was just stressed out, I had a seizure and was told I had a brain tumor the size of two golf balls.”
The doctors decided she needed to be induced to keep her baby safe, and Mario was born a week earlier and weighed 6 pounds 2 ounces.
She said: “To find out that I had to have my baby there and then it was terrible. I know it sounds strong, but I felt hurt – as if I was forced to have my baby.
“When Mario arrived, I was sobbing with grief and total devastation because this beautiful moment had been stolen from my brain tumor. His birth was overshadowed by my tumor and I felt overwhelmed with guilt.
“There were no happy calls to friends and family to say that my little one had arrived. Instead, it was all about my tumor and I felt broken – even though I didn’t know how long I was left at that point. “
Katie, also mother of Sofia (five) and Hugo (three), was admitted to Southmead Hospital in Bristol five weeks later for a ten-hour operation to remove as much tumor as possible.
With surgeons removing 90 percent, she has since completed 33 rounds of radiotherapy and is currently in her seventh round of what is expected to be 12 chemotherapy sessions.
The first sign of her condition was a headache in April 2019, just before she and her children flew to husband Daniel, 36, while doing an internship in Lecce, Italy.
She said: “The headache more or less occurred as soon as I went to bed and sometimes it woke me up in the middle of the night.
“Then this smell would hit me. It is difficult to describe, but it smelled metallic and would make my nose tingle.
“Sometimes it got so bad that I felt physically ill.”
Daniel urged Katie to see a family doctor, but her symptoms were initially due to anxiety and pregnancy hormones.
Since the headache refused to subside, Daniel advised his wife to continue seeing their doctor, which she did at least once a week for the next six weeks.
But nobody had an explanation for their symptoms other than hormones and stress.
Despite intensive treatment, Katie’s cancer remains incurable.
She is now sharing her experiences to raise awareness of organizations like Brain tumor research and says that if scientists find a cure, their only hope of survival will come.
She said, “I have three to eight years to live. This type of cancer is not yet cured. You can only extend my life.
“Sometimes I have dark days when I wonder how my children will be without me or whether they will even remember me.
“But then I remember someone sitting in a lab somewhere trying to find a cure that they could do well, and that gives me hope.
Katie and her family isolated themselves during the coronavirus blockade to ensure that they could take their chemotherapy – in pill form – without endangering themselves.
She focuses on making the most of the time she has spent with her children and husband.
“Doctors don’t really know, but after the operation, I was told I had about eight years to live,” she said. “You can never be sure, but all you can do now is to extend my life.
“I want to give my children a massive stamp while I can still, and in the worst case I want them all to know that mom loves them very, very much.
“In a way, locking was a blessing in disguise because I could spend a lot of time with them to create memories that we will cherish.
At the moment I take it as it comes every day and although I know my life is uncertain, I don’t try to think about whether I will live or die. Instead, I try to enjoy every moment.
“And I hope that one day the Brain Tumor Research scientists will finally find a cure.”