Dawn Hamill has survived a brain tumour and breast cancer and is now a blogger sharing her experiences and her daily life.
Dawn is a courageous and inspirational lady. She was diagnosed with a Benign Parasaggital Meningioma in November 2008 and later on in 2014 was diagnosed with Grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer.
I initially met Dawn on my Facebook Page in 2012 and then had the chance to interview her on my ‘Brain Tumour Thursday Radio Show’ in 2014. You can Listen to the segment of our interview here.
Be inspired by this true warrior
This week I asked Dawn to update us with how she is now 5 years down the line since her last interview.
How are you feeling now since your diagnosis?
My diagnosis was incredibly sudden. One day I was at work in my National role of Nurse Consultant, the next day, following my first Tonic-Clonic seizure in the night, I was lying in a hospital bed awaiting Brain Surgery. I had no idea how much my life would change as I was wheeled to the theatre on that Wednesday morning in November 2008. Looking back now I can think I went into shock and, drugged up on new epilepsy tablets was really quite numb! It was as though the events were happening to someone else while I watched.
Now ten years later I often tell people “my brain tumour was the best thing that happened to me, it got me out of the rat race of work which gave me the gift of Time. It also taught me how to live in the moment and really appreciate the small things in life”. People look shocked when I say that!
Are you struggling with anything since your diagnosis?
I could spend a lot of time listing the things I struggle with but I prefer to focus on the positives. However, as you have asked my two main irritations are firstly my ongoing epilepsy which, despite many drug changes, still affects my days and weeks. Secondly, my limited mobility as luckily following surgery I regained the use in my right leg and left arm but have never regained the full use of my left leg.
I also get frustrated that everything takes me so much longer to do nowadays as my brain doesn’t work at the speed it used to and I find it harder to retain information. I think that’s caused by a combination of the fatigue and the plethora of epilepsy medications. I take so many tablets I rattle!
What do you do now in your life in the week?
My life is so different compared with ten years ago. Writing has become my main focus. I write a blog about living a meaningful life after a brain tumour and breast cancer. But lately, my posts are infrequent as I am working on some research for a book on an organisation called the Adult School which is closing down but has a history going back 220 years. I also sing in a choir, play a bit of piano, try and do a bit of exercise when I have the energy and see as much of my friends and family as I can. To get out and about I now use a community (ring and ride) minibus service – something I thought was just for the elderly before! I also borrow mobility scooters when I need to.
We also keep an allotment where my husband and I grow our own vegetables. We have designed our plot to make it as accessible as possible for me as I tend to fall over a lot!
What motivates you?
Being lucky enough to have survived a brain tumour then breast cancer motivates me. I have always been someone who is motivated to make the most of life and that hasn’t changed since the brain tumour. I like to have something to look forward to but also to keep my mind busy every day after all as the saying goes “if you don’t use it you lose it! “
Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
My personal hero is my husband. He has been by my side through some incredibly tough times caused by my ill health. He understands my fatigue and epilepsy and is my radar for ensuring I don’t overdo things! He reads me better than I read myself. I am stubborn and find it hard to accept I can’t do everything I want. He has given up a lot too because of the way we now have to live our lives. We used to love dancing, long walks in the countryside and up mountains and travelling abroad to bird watch in remote areas. We can’t do any of these now and he never complains.
My other heroes are you, Claire Bullimore, Chris Lewis, Margaret Chandler and Danielle McGriskin amongst others. You have all seized a negative in your life and channelled it into helping so many others with brain tumours, and other cancers. I watch what you all do with such admiration.
I thought that with my extensive nursing background I would take a similar route in helping others. Once I had recovered from my surgeries, I dipped my toe in the water of charity work and volunteering, however, I discovered that I had worn my caring genes out! It took me a couple of years to understand and accept that was the case.
What would you say is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done since your diagnosis?
I really had to think about this question. Probably getting married was my most joyous occasion. But exciting; now that’s a challenge. Mmmm, there are so many things but the one which immediately comes to mind is travelling from the airport in Venice to our hotel just off the Grand canal in a private water taxi. I loved the feel of the wind in my hair and watching the joy on my Moms face as we passed the beautiful old buildings as the holiday was a treat for her 80th birthday.
What is the toughest challenge survivors face?
I can’t speak for others but my own is the ongoing journey to ‘acceptance’. What I mean by that is ‘acceptance’ of the changes which occur after a brain tumour and in my case breast cancer, epilepsy and limited mobility is an ongoing process. I had never understood that before. I thought once I had reached acceptance that would be it. But it isn’t. I imagine it is the same with any ongoing health condition.
For example, I have accepted that my mobility has been considerably affected by the tumour and surgery. BUT day to day I still get frustrated if I come up against something new which I can no longer do. One of my life dreams was to visit Antartica, however, when I started to seriously explore the possibility of doing this, I came up against so many hurdles and brick walls I eventually gave up. It has taken me a year to accept that yet again my mobility and epilepsy are stopping me from achieving another dream.
Any advice for people or loved ones that get this daunting diagnosis?
Claire, you have the knack of asking tricky questions! I guess I have a few points I think are worth sharing:
- Take it day by day, sometimes the best you can achieve is to get through the next hour
- Be kind to yourself
- If you want, information only use reputable sources such as NHS or large charities.
- Approach a support group – it took me two years before I was signposted to any support and it was the best thing that happened in my recovery
- Accept counselling if you are struggling, I don’t know how I would have coped without it!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people want to do something so tell them what they can do such as prepare you a meal, take you out, give you a lift to hospital etc.
- Sometimes change can bring good things, you just have to look out for it.
- Live life in the moment, try not to spend too much time looking backwards or forwards to the future, learn to enjoy each moment.
- Understand that acceptance of your situation is an ever-evolving entity.
- Never, Ever Give Up.
Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know?
When I was in my 20s I made a list of the things I wanted to do before I was 50. I then worked through them and am so thankful I had the foresight to do that then, as I was 45 when my brain was discovered. My ticked off list included:
- Do a freefall parachute jump
- Learn to play the piano
- Join a rambling group and walk every week
- Climb mountains
- See the Grand Canyon and walk to the bottom
- Take up ballroom dancing
- Have afternoon tea at the Ritz hotel in London
- Study for a Degree
Dawn is a true fighter. It can be hard to believe after one diagnosis like a brain tumour means there are no other battles ahead. It is unusual for this to happen but, Dawn shows that people can get through any battle with support and loved ones by your side. We must never take life for granted and we must step out of our comfort zone and get on the train that direct to the life we want.
Keep reading to find out more about Dawn and about her blog Mind the Gap A-Z
Also, find Dawn on Twitter at dawn_hamill
Why not write your own list of ‘To-Do Lists’ and start ticking off the boxes like Dawn has been done?