A 23 year old football player from County Down in Northern Ireland has spoken about his experience of being diagnosed with a rare brain tumour to the BBC. Ross Larkin, who plays for Linfield F.C. and has played for Northern Ireland under-21 team, was admitted to hospital with grade-three oligodendroglioma tumour in 2021.
At the time, Larkin was 22 and besides his successful football career, he had just graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a business management degree. He noticed his first symptoms on graduation day.
Larkin told BBC News NI in a recent interview: “I felt a pressure at the side of my eye – I lost peripheral vision. It’s such a rare disease and for it to happen to me was just hard to take. But I got through it and am stronger for it now.I feel so thankful to everyone for being so good to me.”
Larkin had surgery on the tumour and also received radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He said: “Thank God I had that surgery and it was successful. I’d had no symptoms whatsoever and next thing I’m admitted to hospital for a brain tumour.I just couldn’t believe it. My family couldn’t believe it. It was hard to take.”
According to The Brain Tumour Charity, oligodendrogliomas are rare, accounting for 2-5% of all primary brain tumours. They are also more common in people aged between 40 to 60 years old, and are slightly more common in men than women. Grade three oligodendrogliomas are fast growing and likely to spread.
Oligodengliomas most commonly grow in the frontal lobes of the brain, but they can also grow in the temporal lobe. The type of symptoms are often linked to the site of the tumour.
Common symptoms of frontal lobe oligodendrogliomas include muscular weakness or numbness in one side of the body, changes in personality and mood swings. Temporal lobe tumours are associated with loss of coordination and issues with speech and memory. Other symptoms include an altered sense of smell and vision disturbances.
Grade one and two oligodendrogliomas are usually slow growing, and in most cases doctors will actively monitor the tumour rather than treat it straight away. Grade three oligodendrogliomas are malignant and require immediate treatment. This is usually a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.
One of the most advanced forms of brain cancer treatment is Gamma Knife surgery, also known as stereotactic surgery. This is not surgery in the sense of making an incision into the brain, but is a method of targeting low dose radiation beams at the tumour site from an external source.
On the subject of whether he will play football again, Larkin said: “I’m not sure. I’ve talked to the doctors and the brain surgeons. They’re not recommending it fully. But I’m personally not giving up on it. I’ll see how I am, maybe in a year’s time and reassess.”
He added: “I’m doing the Belfast marathon and I want to focus on this at the moment and after the marathon I’ll sit down and I’ll see where I am.”
Larkin is also raising money for the Brainwaves NI charity when he runs the marathon on 30 April.