Doctors thought I had taken drugs… but bizarre symptoms were down to a brain tumour

Despite her diagnosis, Nicole is living life to the full
Despite her diagnosis, Nicole is living life to the full

They were the possibilities facing Nicole Phillips when she started suffering a catalogue of weird symptoms.

Little did the mum-of-two know, her problems, including auditory hallucinations, were being caused by a brain tumour the size of an orange.

“Many people with brain tumours get very strong smells,” says Nicole (45), from Leighton Buzzard.

“Mine smelt like urine, very strong, and I could also smell tobacco when no-one was smoking.

“But the noises in my head were worse.

“They started as a whirring which eventually built up and built up until they became the same Lily Allen song playing over and over in my head.

“I remember hearing myself screaming in A&E: ‘Here it comes again!’

“It was her song Alfie, of all things, which makes me laugh when I hear it now but, at the time, it was awful.

“It once happened in the playground and one of the other mums asked: ‘Are you all right? You look terrified.’

“I’d first felt something was wrong in August, 2007, and I visited my local GP because I was suffering from hearing loss.

“A grommet was fitted but this did not improve things for long.

“By October, I couldn’t concentrate properly on my job, and I could hear whining noises in my head.

“I remember thinking I didn’t feel right, but the doctor thought I had sinusitis and gave me a nasal spray.

“A few weeks later, I started to have massive headaches which were dismissed as stress, and the trembling in my arms was put down to a trapped nerve.

“However, when I queried my symptoms for a fourth time, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and given anti-depressants.

“After Christmas, I started to hear noises in my head and phoned the GP — he laughed at me and asked if I had been drinking or taking drugs!” Nicole recalls.

“I was so upset — I thought I was going mad.

“Then a few weeks later, I was talking to a friend and I couldn’t get my words out.

“They were all jumbled up.

“Again, my doctor thought it was stress, and later, when I went back yet again feeling light-headed, confused and forgetful, I was given no help.

“By this time, I had seen seven different GPs who gave a variety of different diagnoses and prescriptions, but I was still ill,” says Nicole.

“In the end, I had to make the decision to give up work.”

Nicole's daughter Ellen
Nicole’s daughter Ellen

Things were about to get worse for Nicole but, ironically, that would lead to her finally getting an answer to her problems.

“In February, 2008, I had just carried my new baby daughter, Ellen, downstairs when I suffered a major fit and was rushed to Luton and Dunstable Hospital,” reveals Nicole.

“Brain scans revealed a massive tumour over my left ear on the right side of my brain.

“Specialists said the pregnancy hormones had made it grow faster.

“I remember being terrified and praying for my life as I was transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in London where they put me on steroids to reduce the pressure in my brain.

“After that, I was taken for surgery.

“I was so frightened — not for me, but for my kids, who were just four and eight months at the time.

“We took some last pictures with Megan and Ellen just in case I didn’t make it, and then they left.

“It was only then that I allowed myself to break down.

“I underwent a frightening, nine-hour operation, which could have threatened my speech.

“I realise that I was one of the lucky ones because my tumour, a meningioma, was not only benign, but it could be removed by surgeons,” explains Nicole.

“I’m a fairly upbeat, bubbly sort of person, but I now had epilepsy and could no longer cook, drive alone or bath baby Ellen or her sister.”

Unfortunately, lightning’s struck twice for Nicole, who says: “In March, 2014, I had an MRI that revealed that the tumour had grown again and was the size of a squashed grape.

“Apparently, it’s a case of ‘watch and wait’, but it was devastating to hear that it was inoperable and that I will probably need to have radiotherapy.

“I suffer with short-term memory loss, although I have been taught to make up comical pictures in my mind to help remember things like people’s names.

“I also have to take a lot of medication to control my epilepsy but thankfully this now seems to have the fits under control as I haven’t had one for at least 20 months.”

That, thankfully, isn’t the only good news for Nicole.

“After my first marriage sadly broke up, in July, last year, I married Phil and became Mrs Phillips, before going away on a lovely honeymoon cruise with Megan and Ellen,” she says.

Near-death experience made me determined to help

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WE’VE all had that classic anxiety dream, suddenly finding ourselves in public naked as the day we were born.

But for Nicole it wasn’t a dream — she actually found herself sitting in a local pub in nothing but her birthday suit and a fetching pink top hat!

“Once you have a head op, you do not come out the same — I’ve come out nicer!” laughs Nicole, who was posing for her brain tumour charity Head 1st’s “naked ladies” 2016 calendar.

“I’m a lot more positive, and it gives you a different perspective on life.

“There’s a huge desire to make the most of it.

“Before my tumour, there’s no way I’d have been sitting on a bar stool in the altogether, smiling for the camera!

“It was done in a pub that was closed for the photo shoot, but they didn’t close any of the curtains!

“And it was on a main road, so I kept thinking either we’d cause an accident or the people on the top deck of the bus would get a good view!”

After a near-death experience, Nicole admits: “I became determined to raise awareness of brain tumours.

“I wanted people to know how underfunded research was into this devastating disease, which actually kills more people under 40 than any other cancer.

“I also wanted to make people aware of the symptoms — GPs don’t always recognise the signs, as I found out first-hand.”

Nicole’s symptoms were originally thought of as being caused by stress, sinusitis, post-natal depression and even a trapped nerve.

It wasn’t until a devastating fit that she finally discovered the cause of her problems.

“As a result of my experiences, I set up a fundraising group called Head 1st under the umbrella of Brain Tumour Research and we have now raised over £25,000 to date,” reveals Nicole.

“Brain tumours are sometimes described as the orphan disease because so little is known about them and so little funding is allocated to them.”

For more information visit the websites at www.head1st.org.uk and www.braintumourresearch.org


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