Running the London Marathon is a huge personal achievement, but for some it was also an opportunity to raise money for brain tumour research. The Brain Tumour Charity recently reported on the stories of brave competitors who completed the race for very special and compelling reasons.
Among these runners is Stefan Gilford, 31, from Weymouth, who is a part time firefighter and gym instructor. Stefan was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma brain tumour in December 2021. He initially struggled to get a diagnosis after reporting hearing loss in his right ear, as he was told it was caused by a perforated eardrum.
Acoustic neuromas are also known as vestibular schwannomas, and are benign (non-cancerous) brain tumours. They grow on the nerve connected to hearing and balance. Hearing loss, usually in one ear, is one of the main symptoms. Patients may also experience tinnitus and a spinning sensation known as vertigo.
Acoustic neuroma treatment depends on the size and position of the tumour. They usually grow slowly but can be problematic if they grow to a large size, and should be treated before this stage where possible. If the tumour is small it may just be monitored with MRI scans. Larger tumours may be removed with surgery.
Another option for treating smaller tumours is stereotactic radiosurgery, also known as Gamma Knife surgery. This is not the same as traditional surgery that involves an incision directly into the skull. It is a method of targeting the tumour with precise beams of radiation that reduce the tumour cells and leave the surrounding healthy cells intact.
Fortunately, although Stefan’s tumour was quite large, doctors were able to remove 95% of it through surgery. The remaining tumour is being monitored by doctors, who will treat it with radiosurgery if it begins to grow.
Stefan said: “The diagnosis was the toughest challenge I have ever had to go through, and put incredible amounts of stress on me and those around me. I would never have imagined that I would receive such news, especially at 30-years old.”
He added: “Until I was directly impacted, I had no idea how common brain tumours were and the high percentage of lives they take every year, especially those who are aged under 40.”
Stefan was not a regular runner before his surgery in March 2022. However he was determined to take on the marathon challenge, both to prove his own fitness and to raise funds and awareness for brain tumour research.
He said: “I’ve been very fortunate to have bounced back quite quickly after my surgery. I was warned that recovery could take a long time, but luckily that hasn’t been the case with me. After taking things easy at first, I built up my fitness again gradually and was able to return to work after two months.”
Despite the fact that brain tumours are the biggest killer of children and adults under 40 of all types of cancer, comparatively little funding is allocated to research and clinical trials in this area.