By Scott Thompson
THIS BRAVE mum-of-two was horrified when doctors told her a tumour the SIZE OF A GOLF BALL had been growing in her brain since she was just NINE-YEARS-OLD but it was another twenty years before the growth started to CHANGE HER FACE – forcing her to undergo surgery that TOOK AWAY HER SMILE.
Sales consultant and mother of two, Zabrina Radford (40) from Bedfordshire, UK had a lump the size of a golf ball growing inside her brain since she was just nine years old. Zabrina suffered a lot of pain in the ear, top of her neck and back of her lower skull so went to see the doctor. It wasn’t until December 1999, when she was 21 years old, she was diagnosed with a benign tumour.
The doctors wanted to remove the tumour, but they were unsure of the type of tumour she had and couldn’t guarantee saving the surrounding nerves. For a year Zabrina and her husband Ryan (45), looked at alternatives such as radiotherapy to reduce its size.
By chance her friend met a neurosurgeon in New York, USA in November 2000 who recommended a professor working in London who had just started a new treatment called gamma knife. This is a non-invasive treatment for difficult to treat brain conditions that uses gamma radiation to treat the area.
Zabrina had two sessions at the Cromwell Hospital in March 2001 and June 2004. Additionally, she attended the hospital for MRI, CT and PET scans so the tumour could be monitored each year.
Zabrina continued with her life living as healthily as she could and taking care of her body, but then, in November 2017, on the run up to her 40th birthday she had a growing pain down the right side of her face.
“In December 1999 I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour. I was only 21 and Callum, our youngest son was only nine months old,” Zabrina said.
“It was a tough blow to receive the news, I was only young myself with a very young child.
“Judging by the size when diagnosed, which was about the size of a golf ball, it had probably been growing inside me since I was nine years old.
“At the time of being diagnosed a consultant wanted to remove the tumour but they were unsure of the type of tumour I might have, and they couldn’t guarantee saving any surrounding nerves.
“For a year my husband researched alternative solutions such as radiotherapy, then nearly a year later just by chance a friend of ours was in New York having dinner with a top neurosurgeon and he recommended Professor Lindqvist who was working in London and had just launched a new type of treatment that was called gamma knife.
“So, I had two rounds of gamma knife radiotherapy treatment by Professor Christer Lindquist, and his amazing team at the Cromwell Hospital in March 2001 and June 2004.
“My hospital visits never stopped there as I had to have, MRI, CT and PET scans to be monitored every year.
“The tumour has just been there, not growing, not giving me too much pain or any problems. So, I got on with life and I was eating healthy, looking after my body with yoga, cycling, pole fitness, weight training and swimming.
“But then suddenly in November 2017, on my run up to my 40th, I started to notice a change in my face. I had a lot of pain on the right side and in my ear.”
Zabrina thought it had something to do with her tumour because she knew that the tumour was around the nerves in her face.
During Christmas in 2018 she had a sixth sense that 2019 wasn’t going to be a good year. Then in February 2019 her pain escalated, and the side of her face was weak.
On March 1, 2019, Zabrina underwent surgery to clean up an infection and cut away dead bone but things were more complex than they initially realised.
When she came around, on March 2, 2019 she was told that her facial nerves had shut down leaving the side of her face paralysed.
“I had a feeling the problem was to do with my brain tumour because of the surrounding nerves. We lost a dear friend over Christmas in 2018 and I had this feeling that 2019 would be a difficult year,” said Zabrina.
“I was booked in for an operation on March 1, 2019. It was mainly to clear up infection and cut away dead bone from osteoradionecrosis, which is the death of bone due to radiation, but things were much worse than they initially thought.
“When I woke up the next day the doctors told me the nerves had completely shut down and that the right side of my face was now paralysed.
“It was a massive shock to me to just wake up one day and not be able to smile. Imagine not being able to smile at your husband or children and seeing the worry on their faces. It was heart breaking.
“I’d just turned 40 and life was fantastic for us, two handsome and smart sons and my husband, who I simply adore, had been working so hard on his business to give us a good life.
“Life was good. I was fit and healthy and confident. My life changed so suddenly.”
Doctors performed surgery on Zabrina on June 17, 2019 to remove the tumour and help reconstruct the right side of her face so that she can one day smile again
“I’ve already had one major eight-hour surgery on June 17, 2019 to finally remove my tumour, 20 years later, and help ‘reanimate’ my face,” Zabrina said.
“After two weeks of having this operation I’m able to smile a little again and it’s simply the best feeling in the world. I still have a long way to go but hopefully in the next nine months my facial nerves will work normally. I’m feeling very positive and excited.
“I’ve had amazing support from my husband Ryan, he has really been my rock from the very first day I was diagnosed with a brain tumour up till right now. Thank you Ryan. I’m very lucky to have him and I love him very much.
“Also the support my two children Callum and Zane have given me. I’m very proud of the two of them and they are my world.
“Finally, I want to thank my friends who have been there for me these last few months. Thank you for your visits, messages, flowers, gifts and positive words. You all picked me up when I was feeling low and I’m so grateful.”
Follow Zabrina’s journey on Instagram.