Woman’s constant headaches and hair loss was caused by something far more serious

By Staff 8 Min Read

“The tumour was on the nerve behind my ear that is used for hearing and balance, which explained my sickness – I was experiencing headaches and nausea from the pressure of the tumour, which was also growing”

This past year, 33-year-old optician Cathy Davis had to learn how to walk again.

She has had to try and regain her balance and strength, and has made life work whilst having hearing in just one ear. Currently, she is looking to set her sights on completing the Manchester Marathon in April, after overcoming one of the most life-altering years of her life.

Cathy has worked as an optometrist with Specsavers since 2012, but started to feel unwell in September 2022 with continual headaches. When combined with nausea and hair loss, she figured out something was wrong.

She said: “If I could give one piece of advice to anyone reading this, it would be to listen to your body. Nobody knows your own health and wellbeing like yourself, you know if something isn’t right and that’s what happened to me.”

Cathy’s GP suggested she keep a diary of her headaches, however when she discussed the matter within her work, it made her colleague Mairead O’Kane undertake an eye test, Belfast Live reports. Mairead was worried about the appearance of Cathy’s optic nerve, and therefore referred her to Ophthalmology, at Altnagelvin Hospital where she received an MRI.

She said: “In November 2022, I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, which is a type of brain tumour, and thankfully, non-cancerous.

“The tumour was on the nerve behind my ear that is used for hearing and balance, which explained my sickness – I was experiencing headaches and nausea from the pressure of the tumour, which was also growing.”

Two surgeons spent 10 hours removing 95 per cent of the tumour in January 2023, and Cathy spent six days in ICU following her brain surgery, whilst being cared for “by the most amazing nurses and consultants.” She added: “They were just absolutely incredible and I owe them all my life, as well as Mairead.”

The combination of clinical expertise means Cathy wants to speak out about her experience one year from surgery and now is back at work, providing the exact care that saved her own life.

The same year, a female customer visited the store in a final attempt to get help for her headaches. But due to a worrying Field Vision Test was taken to Altnagelvin, where she was told she’d had a stroke.

In 2021, another customer also visited Specsavers Omagh with headaches and an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan, which is a hospital grade machine in-store, showed a huge build up of pressure caused by a blood clot in his brain.

Cathy herself has found such life threatening conditions when testing patients within her clinics, which prompted her to share her symptoms with Mairead. “Had I not spoken to Mairead about my health, and with both of our knowledge combined, the tumour would’ve continued to grow, I would’ve continued to be unwell and would’ve been left with life-changing disabilities, which was confirmed by my neurosurgeons at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.”

As an active person with generally good health, Cathy knew she wasn’t well, but she has always had a can-do attitude, and if anything gets in her way, she will use that determination to get through it. “It will take me years to process this. However, I am determined not to let it define my life.

“I am so incredibly lucky to have the care, surgery and support needed to get me through this, from my doctors, my colleagues, my gym friends, my group of best friends and my incredible family. So, in November 2023, the anniversary of my diagnosis, I decided I wanted to do something to give back, so I signed up to the Manchester Marathon with my friend, Cathy McAleer.”

The two Cathys met at the gym five years ago, and have been friends ever since. “Fatigue has been a huge side effect of my surgery last year. After 10 hours under general anesthetic, it can take the body years to adjust. I was fit and healthy before my surgery which has put me in a good position to get my strength and fitness back,” Cathy said.

“A few months after my surgery I was cheering on my running mates at a race in Bundoran and said to myself, ‘I’m going to be here next year, running this race’, and I did – I used it as a training run on March 2.” Cathy will run on April 14 to raise money for BANA, the British Acoustic Neuroma Association, telling her story to also raise awareness and ensure more people know about the access to clinical care available in local communities thanks to Specsavers stores across Northern Ireland.

To donate to Cathy’s campaign, click here.

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