Teacher, 29, back in the classroom after being treated for rare brain tumour

Alexandra Thompson
·5-min read
x
Lucy Gallagher (pictured before she became unwell) was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour towards the end of 2020. (Supplied: Brain Tumour Research)

A teacher is back in the classroom after undergoing life-saving surgery for a rare brain tumour.

Lucy Gallagher, 29, endured migraines for years that she put down to her "busy, stressful job" teaching religious studies to secondary-school students.

The key worker, from Bolton, lost her sight in her left eye during a lesson on 16 November, 2020.

After being rushed to hospital, doctors eventually diagnosed Gallagher with a colloid cyst: a non-cancerous tumour that forms in one of the fluid-filled cavities in the brain.

Gallagher went under the knife on 18 November, with medics managing to remove the tumour in its entirety.

Read more: Blood test could spare non-severe brain tumour patients surgery

She returned to the classroom on the same day the gates opened for students throughout England following its third lockdown.

Although Gallagher struggles to stand or walk for long periods of time, she feels "really lucky".

x
Gallagher has a scar after undergoing surgery to remove her brain tumour. (Supplied: Brain Tumour Research)

"On 16 November, I was about to teach a lesson when I felt a migraine coming on," said Gallagher. "I thought I'd just try to power through.

"As I started to lose sight in my left eye, I told the kids to get a teacher if I became really unwell.

"By the end of the lesson, the left side of my body had started to go numb.

"I went to sit in a quiet room and someone put out a radio call for a first aider. Before I knew it, lots of staff were there, including the headteacher, who decided to call an ambulance."

Gallagher was rushed to Royal Bolton Hospital.

"They checked everything, including my eyes, and they thought I might have optic nerve swelling," she said.

"I was sent for a CT scan, then spent the next three hours or so waiting to be seen.

"Eventually, the doctor came and explained they'd found what looked like a cyst on my brain."

Read more: Woman, 19, diagnosed with brain tumour after trip to Vision Express

Gallagher was transferred to Salford Royal Hospital. Coronavirus restrictions meant she could not have loved ones by her side.

"When I called my mum, I could tell she was really concerned but was trying not to cry," said Gallagher. "It was just so tough having to go through it all on my own."

Gallagher was treated for obstructive hydrocephalus, or "water on the brain".

The next day, a second scan revealed her colloid cyst, which is thought to have blocked her cerebral spinal fluid, causing hydrocephalus.

Although the surgery was a success, Gallagher again struggled with having no visitors.

"I spent a week in hospital," she said. "On one occasion, my mum dropped some things off for me and I heard her voice outside in the corridor, but I wasn't allowed to see her. It was really hard."

On 23 November, Gallagher had a lumbar puncture to remove the remaining excess fluid. She was discharged that day.

"I was signed off work for the rest of the term and I had the Christmas holidays to recover too," said Gallagher.

"I had prepared to come back to school in January but then the prime minister announced schools would be partially closed due to the COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] lockdown, so I stayed at home teaching students remotely.

"When schools reopened to all pupils earlier this month, I returned at the same time but on a reduced timetable."

Gallagher's parents David and Karen (pictured together at her graduation before she became unwell) were unable to visit her in hospital. (Supplied: Brain Tumour Research)
Gallagher's parents David and Karen (pictured together at her graduation before she became unwell) were unable to visit her in hospital. (Supplied: Brain Tumour Research)

Keen to raise awareness, Gallagher is organising a Wear A Hat Day at her school on 26 March to coincide with the Brain Tumour Research event.

"All 1,100 pupils and staff members are being asked to come in wearing a hat on the day. and they'll make a donation to the charity," she said.

“I’m also passionate about spreading the key messages surrounding brain tumours and I've given an assembly on the topic to help raise awareness among the school community.

"I've been really lucky, as the surgeon managed to get 100% of my tumour. What he can't tell me is where it came from or why it grew when it did.

"Just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease, and I’m very aware that not everyone is as fortunate as I am."

Read more: Brain cancer patient, 22, forced to fundraise £100,000 for German treatment

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer.

Brain Tumour Research is campaigning for an increase in the national investment into research to £35m ($48.4m) a year, which would put it on par with breast cancer and leukaemia funding.

In the UK alone, 16,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year. Fewer than 12% survive more than five years post-diagnosis, compared with an average of 50% across all cancers.

Matthew Price, from Brain Tumour Research, said: "We were so sorry to learn about Lucy's diagnosis but pleased her surgery went well and she's been able to return to a job she loves.

"Lucy's diagnosis spurs us on to continue to find a cure for this terrible disease.

"Unlike many other cancers, brain tumours are indiscriminate. They can affect anyone at any time.

"Too little is known about the causes and that is why increased investment in research is vital if we are to improve outcomes for patients and, ultimately, find a cure."

Watch: Dancer James Jordan's father dies with brain tumour