Gabriella's story

At the age of 22, I was in the prime of my life. I was into my second year as a registered nurse, working within a very busy paediatric unit. I had the most amazing family supporting me. The most amazing friends (this also includes the amazing women and men I was lucky enough to work with on the paediatric ward). I believed I was invincible.

The symptoms first occurred around June 2020. I was a very busy woman, working multiple shifts at the hospital, travelling home to renovate my room, looking after my house in Armidale and travelling. I began suffering from headaches, followed by absent seizures. 

It’s the strangest thing, I could tell something was definitely not right with my health. However, I continued to brush it off until the 3rd of November. I was on a morning shift at work, it was a very busy and stressful morning, I was even asked to do a double shift.

All I remember was waking up in the emergency with nasal prongs in my nose, a sore tongue and feeling very sedated. My initial thought was to get out of bed and get back onto the ward because I knew I had a double shift pending. Instead, a nurse came and explained that I had a tonic clonic seizure, lost consciousness and crashed onto the ground. 

The nurse in me started thinking of the causes. I straight away put it down to epilepsy. However, I had a CT scan, and much to my disbelief, it was a very large brain tumour located on the frontal left side of my brain.

After being flown to John Hunter Hospital, the neurosurgeon Dr. Mitchell Hansen reviewed and planned an awake craniotomy for the 24th of November. News spread very fast of my diagnosis and I was overwhelmed with so much support and love. The awake craniotomy removed the majority of the tumour. It was my very first operation, so of course I was terrified but I was in the best care and the best hands at John Hunter. This is when I first was introduced to the Mark Hughes Foundation through the wonderful Nurse Alisha. It was so overwhelming but she spent time answering all my questions along with providing information and a bag of goodies. Was such a fantastic support during my stay at John Hunter Hospital as well as when I returned back home.

The following week, I was to find out the pathology of the tumour. The neuro surgeons rang on Friday and delivered the devastating news. Traces of grade 4 glioblastoma were detected. I was devastated. The thing that really got to me was seeing everyone I loved in emotional pain because of me. It was a very hard pill to swallow.

I met two wonderful oncologists in Tamworth, who planned my radiation and chemotherapy. I also was allocated a wonderful Mark Hughes Foundation Nurse in Tamworth Natasha, who was my guide to the disease and the treatments. Making appointments, checking in on me during my treatment, as well as in between my treatments. Natasha along with Alisha have become a lifeline to get me through the treatment & beyond. I underwent 6 weeks of radiation in January (33 Radiation treatments), and I’m currently on my 4/6 monthly chemo treatments. I also had a second craniotomy in April at John Hunter Hospital to remove more of the tumour. 

I am so grateful for absolutely everyone who has been involved during my diagnosis. In particular, my mum Theresa, who has been at every appointment, every hospital trip, every radiation and chemo treatment. She has held my hair back when I have been unwell, held my hand in the times I broke down and gave me the reassurance that I am not alone in this battle.  There is absolutely no way I will ever be able to repay her for the love and support she has given me. 

I also have to mention Ben and James. Although they didn’t think what they did for me was that “big of a deal”, they opened their doors to us, gave me a bed to sleep in, made sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed whilst down in Newcastle, not to mention the time they drove all the way to Maccas to get me some hot chips in the middle of the night. Two of the most genuine people who I am so grateful to have by my side. 

The care I have received was thanks to the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF). I wouldn’t have received the care I have been given, nor the guidance of the nurses if it wasn’t for the MHF. MHF is fighting for research and eventually (hopefully soon), a cure for brain cancer. 

Recently, I was on a flight to Armidale and remember spotting the beanie before turning to my sister (who is obsessed with NRL) and asking if it was Mark Hughes. It was! I was fortunate enough to meet and have a chat with the wonderful couple behind the foundation, Mark and his wife Kirralee. They are both so dedicated and committed to the foundation, whilst being the most genuine and humble people I have ever met. What a huge tick off my bucket list. To meet a Celebrity! Mark Hughes, a person who has made such a major impact in my life. I do apologise Mark; I’ll still be cheering for Manly Sea Eagles!

If anything, it was the reality check I needed. It taught me to live every day like it’s your last. Don’t ever hold back, don’t be stuck in the past, don’t hold grudges, be happy and live for now. Surround yourself with the ones you love. I for one believe in positivity and have shown this always, along with my bubbly personality.

The most important lesson, go to the doctors if you’re unsure of your health, if something out of the normal is happening. Get a check-up, don’t leave it till it’s too late. 

Written by Gabriella