A frightened mother feared she would not live to see her children’s weddings when a routine eye test revealed a Satsuma-sized brain tumor in her skull.
Natalie Marriott, 40, who has had headaches since childhood and also had visual disturbances and dizziness five years ago, disagreed with the doctor’s diagnosis of migraines, so she ignored her medication and did not seek further help.
It wasn’t until the Coalville, Leicestershire mother of two, who wears glasses for myopia, went to Specsavers for her regular checkup on her day off on Thursday, March 18, 2021, that she realized there was something seriously wrong.
Natalie, who has a daughter aged nine and a son aged 12 with husband Paul Marriott, 41, said: “They offered me an OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) scan for an additional £ 10 I agreed to.
“The optician noticed a swelling in my optic nerve and sent me to the eye sacrifice for safety reasons.”
When they arrived at the Leicester Royal Infirmary at noon, tests confirmed that her optic nerve was swollen. Doctors wondered if she had hydrocephalus, which is where fluid builds up in the brain.
However, a CT scan later that night revealed a large tumor in front of her brain.
She said, “It was a complete shock. I was brought straight to the ward to wait for an MRI scan.
“Luckily Paul had been waiting, so he was with me when they got the news.”
Natalie continued, “I had tears in my eyes and thought this was it and I was going to die. You just think the worst right away.
“I kept saying to Paul,” What about the kids? “My first thought was not to be at my daughter’s wedding.”
Natalie had always lived with a headache and did not see a doctor until she also had visual disturbances about five years ago.
She said, “I occasionally got dizzy and blurred my eyes, but I managed.
“I was prescribed beta blockers for migraines, but I knew there was nothing wrong with that – so I never took them.
“I never followed it up after that, but now I realize I probably should have!”
Natalie was discharged from Leicester hospital on Saturday and given an appointment with a specialist at Queen’s Medical Center in Nottingham on Monday, where she was told that she would have to have an operation the next morning.
And on Tuesday, March 23, at 9 a.m., she had a five-hour operation to remove the tumor. She had a jagged scar on her head and a strip of shaved hair.
She said, “The surgeon said the tumor was the size of a satsuma or a lime and he thought it had been growing for about 10 years.”
She continued, “I had to undergo a craniotomy, which involves removing part of the skull to get to the brain. So I have an ear-to-ear scar and a nice shaved patch on the front.
“I still don’t think the kids really appreciate how bad it could have been.”
Natalie woke up in recovery and said she was “out” after the procedure.
“I was in and out, couldn’t eat and was sick a couple of times,” she said.
“The next day, however, I got up and went first. I was on eight steroids a day, on disease medication, and pumped full of acetaminophen and morphine.
“I really couldn’t feel anything!”
When she was released on Friday, she left the hospital with two black eyes caused by surgeons peeling off her forehead during the operation.
She explained, “You said it was normal for a craniotomy. They were so swollen that I could barely see them.
“They kept giving me blue ice-water rubber gloves to rest on my face.”
But when she got home, her devoted husband made sure she didn’t lift a finger.
“I felt pretty rough at home for the first week,” she said. “I have been unemployed for 12 weeks and can only drive six months after the operation.”
Despite the massive upheaval, she breathed a sigh of relief since April 1, 2020 when she received the results of tests on the tumor.
The growth was said to be a Grade 1 meningioma on her anterior left side – a tumor that forms on membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord right inside the skull – it wasn’t cancerous.
And her postoperative MRI scan, which she did on March 26th, showed it had been completely removed, meaning the only treatment she needs now is regular life-long follow-ups to check for any regrowth monitor.
She said, “It felt surreal because everything happened so quickly – from finding it out on Thursday to having a five-hour operation to remove it on Tuesday.”
Natalie added, “I didn’t really have time to process something, so it didn’t feel real. Even now, if I didn’t have the scar and stubble, I probably wouldn’t believe it happened.
“I’m really grateful to the nurses and doctors on the ward for the care they gave me. I can’t believe the hours – in the heat and with the masks. I can’t thank them enough.
“I have a nomination bracelet and a charm that says” thankful “and the date of my operation – as a reminder.”
Natalie’s message to anyone who has mild symptoms that mimic their own is to keep pushing doctors for answers and never miss an eye test.
She said, “I would definitely encourage anyone to have regular eye tests – it’s so important.
“I went back to my opticians in Coalville with a box of chocolates for the staff to say thank you for spotting the lump.”
She added, “I have learned to live with my symptoms and have ignored them so the result could have been much worse.
“My advice is not to be like me but to persevere if you have unusual symptoms until you discover the cause. The sooner these problems are identified, the better, as they are often easier to treat if found early. “
Shailan Ruparelia, branch manager of Specsavers Coalville, also wants to encourage people to have regular eye tests.
She said, “Natalie’s story shows the importance of routine eye tests.
“And of course it is important that you see an optician if you notice changes in your vision or if you have sudden symptoms that do not go away.
“We are very excited that we were able to help Natalie get the care she needed and we wish her all the best in her recovery.”