AT just 11-years-old, Kirsty Harrison was given news which would be devastating and terrifying to someone twice her age. She had a brain tumour and there was no way to remove it.
But Kirsty, from Penicuik, refused to let the shattering diagnosis news stop her living life to the full.
And far from dwelling on her condition, she has gone on to become a clinical support worker at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and is now looking forward to her wedding in June 2020.
Now 28-year-old, she has told her story to show her support for Cancer Research UK which has given a £1.5 million boost to help fund brain cancer research at the Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence in Edinburgh.
She was diagnosed with a brain tumour in July 2002, after her parents and teachers noticed her behaving strangely and falling asleep in class.
Her mum and dad, Colin and Jenny, were devastated when they were told she had a tumour located in a part of the brain called the tectal plate.
Doctors told them the tumour wouldn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and it is too deep set in Kirsty’s brain for surgery, so there is no treatment.
The tumour causes Kirsty to suffer from hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, which is kept in check by a programmable ‘shunt’ that is implanted in her brain to drain the cerebrospinal fluid to her stomach.
“Because of where the tumour is, nothing can be done to remove it,” said Kirsty. “The hydrocephalus affected my optic nerves and I still have blind spots in my vision and can be very wobbly on my legs.
“My speech or legs sometimes just stop working and I tend to fall over at times.
“I also have short term memory loss which can be quite a problem at times and I have constant headaches, which is very frustrating.”
But despite everything, Kirsty maintains a positive outlook.
True to her “I can do this” motto, Kirsty took part in Cancer Research UK’s Race For Life in Holyrood Park on June 24 – just weeks after emergency surgery to replace her shunt which had become blocked.
Determined to complete the 10K event, she made it round the course on crutches with support from her friends and her puppy Bella, raising over £400 for the charity.
She said: “I’ve lost a lot of friends I have met in hospital and you can’t help but think ‘Am I next??’ but you have to go on.
“I am not the kind of person to sit back and let my illness take over. I have learned that you have to live for today, you never know what is round the corner.”
Now the 28-year-old is looking forward to planning her wedding to partner David, 27, after he got down on one knee at the top the Rock of Gibraltar on June 29.
The couple are set to marry in Gibraltar on June 27, 2020, in the historic King’s Chapel.
Welcoming Cancer Research UK’s £1.5m investment in the Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence, Kirsty said: “While there seem to be lots of different treatments now for cancers like breast cancer, there isn’t a lot available for brain tumours.
“So it’s really great news that Cancer Research UK is making this investment in brain tumour research in Edinburgh.
“More needs to be done to find new treatments and raise awareness of brain tumours.
“I’ve learned to live the way I am and that’s how things are now, but I hope there will be more treatments for people with brain tumours in the future, and raising money for more research is key to that.”
Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre have been awarded the funding as part of a £3m joint grant with scientists at University College London.
The centre will build better links between scientists and doctors to help drive progress in finding new treatments for glioma, the most common type of brain tumour.
Researchers will work on combining data from health records with genetic information and molecular imaging, to build a fuller picture of the disease that could help doctors make more informed decisions.
Professor Steve Pollard, one of the centre leads, said: “Whilst survival for many types of cancer has improved dramatically over the last 40 years, tackling brain tumours remains a real challenge and they take the lives of far too many people each year.
“We need a better biological understanding of what makes brain tumours vulnerable to help find new treatments with less harsh side effects.
“Looking mainly at glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of adult brain tumour, we will harness the knowledge and skills of scientists from physics, engineering, maths and other disciplines to improve our understanding of the disease.
“It’s important to train doctors so that they are armed with this knowledge when they are selecting patients for clinical trials. That’s also what we hope this centre will achieve, building the next generation of clinician scientists in brain tumours.”