Peterhead family backs brain tumour campaign

Emma celebrated her 17th birthday at T in the Park.
Emma celebrated her 17th birthday at T in the Park.

A Peterhead family is backing a brain tumour awareness campaign following the tragic loss of their daughter to the disease in 2015.

Emma and Graeme Sim lost their ‘beautiful, funny’ daughter Emma to the cruel disease when she was just 17, and are now urging parents to be aware of the symptoms by backing the HeadSmart campaign.

Emma and her mum Heather.

Emma and her mum Heather.

At the age of 15 Emma was studying for exams and mentioned she couldn’t see the board properly at school.

Mum Heather said: “We took her to the optician who said she needed a light prescription.

“Then she started waking up with headeaches and sickness and we took her to the GP three times. We were told they were migraines triggered by exam stress and spending hours on the computer.

“Once, when Graeme took her, he was even told ‘it’s not a brain tumour you know’.”

The signs to watch out for in children and teenagers.

The signs to watch out for in children and teenagers.

A few months later, inMarch 2014, Emma’s left eye turned in. Heather took her to the optician who immediately sent her to Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

She was kept in overnight for observation and next morning woke up with an excrutiating headache.

An MRI scan revealed Emma had a brain tumour and she had emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain.

The following morning she was taken by ambulance to The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

Surgeons managed to remove most of her tumour and biopsy tests revealed it was a rare grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma. Emma had six weeks of combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

After a four-week break, she then had 12 cycles of Temozolomide chemo together with a study drug.

Never once did we hear Emma complain,” said Heather.

“She was the one who kept us going and made us laugh with her mantra: ‘Kill a tumour with humour.’”

In May 2015, Emma had a routine MRI scan and the family were given the devastating news that Emma’s tumour had grown into her brain stem, and was inoperable.

Determined to live her life to the full, Emma managed to go to T in the Park festival and celebrate her 17th birthday. But she died in her parents’ arms at home on November 19, 2015.

“There is no worse pain than watching your child suffer and die before you do,” says Heather, whose family has raised more than £32,000 for The Brain Tumour Charity in Emma’s memory.

“Now we’re backing the HeadSmart campaign because, from our own experience, we know how easy it is for teenagers’ brain tumour symptoms like headaches to be mistaken for exam stress.

“It’s crucial to raise awareness to save more families the heartache of losing a child.

“Emma was beautiful outside and inside. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss her.”

HeadSmart – a partnership between The Brain Tumour Charity, Nottingham University’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health - has already helped cut the average diagnosis time for a childhood brain tumour in the UK from more than 13 weeks to 6.5 weeks across all age groups.

But figures show that for teenagers, diagnosis still takes almost ten weeks on average from the time symptoms first appear.

HeadSmart has two aims - to save lives and reduce long-term disability by bringing down diagnosis times. A key part of this is to make sure healthcare professionals and young people themselves are aware of the warning signs of a brain tumour in this age group.

Hayley Epps, campaign manager for The Brain Tumour Chairy, says: “A key part of that is to make sure healthcare professionals and young people themselves are aware of the warning signs of a brain tumour in this age group.

“These symptoms can easily be mistaken for other problems that typically affect teenagers – for example, mood swings caused by hormonal changes or headaches caused by the stress of exam-related pressure.

“Another issue is that teenagers tend to be reluctant to talk to their parents about health issues. By the time it becomes obvious to the rest of the family that something is very wrong, the tumour may be more difficult to treat than it would have been a few weeks earlier.

“In some cases, a delay to diagnosis can even mean the difference between life and death.”

If you would like more information on the campaign, please go to headsmart.org.uk or watch a short video at http://bit.ly/HeadSmartAminationa

To donate to Heather and Graeme’s fundraising effort, please log on to www.justgiving.com/emma-sim17