How going for routine eye test saved NHS Lothian nurse’s life

Janet Gill went for a routine eye test and was diagnosed with a tumour on her pituatary gland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Janet Gill went for a routine eye test and was diagnosed with a tumour on her pituatary gland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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She went to the opticians thinking she needed new glasses, but Janet Gill was devastated to later discover she had a rare brain tumour.

The NHS Lothian nurse’s eyesight was deteriorating and she was suffering regular headaches for around six months.

After going for a check-up, she was referred onto the Eye Pavilion, who then sent her for an MRI scan that revealed she had a craniopharyngioma – a tumour that generally occurs above the pituitary gland.

Experts say if these tumours are left untreated it can lead to serious problems such as a condition called hydrocephalus, which can be fatal.

The mum-of-two knows how fortunate she was to book the opticians appointment, knowing her eyesight could otherwise have been permanently damaged.

She said: “I could only see outlines of things and could not read easy things. I get the bus to work everyday and I couldn’t see the numbers on the front of them. I missed a lot of buses.

“So I went to Boots Opticians for a re-test because I thought I might need some new glasses or something. It was a huge relief to be diagnosed more than anything. I had so many symptoms and I didn’t know what was wrong.

“I know I have been very lucky. It is scary to think I could have lost my vision. It just goes to show how important eye tests are.”

Doctors are 99 per cent sure her tumour is benign, but cannot guarantee her health due to inconclusive results from a histology.

Diagnosed on February 21, the 47-year-old was booked in for an operation two days later to shrink the cyst developing on her tumour. When she woke up following surgery, she was delighted her vision had significantly improved.

Janet admitted it was strange being on the receiving side of treatment, but has been delighted with the care she has received. She has nominated neurologists Patrick Statham and Mark Hughes, as well as the team on ward 33 at Western General Hospital, for their outstanding efforts for this year’s Health Hero Award as part of NHS Lothian’s Celebrating Success Awards.

Janet is now attending regular check-ups and is expecting to undergo radiotherapy in the coming months to shrink the tumour. David Jenkinson, chief scientific officer for The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “With some types of brain tumour such as craniopharyngioma, early diagnosis can be key to preventing long-term health damage.

“Left untreated, this type of tumour can cause serious problems, including the build-up of fluid in the brain 
(hydrocephalus), diabetes and personality changes as well as visual impairment.

“We know that optometrists have an important role to play in spotting signs that could indicate a brain tumour such as swelling behind the eyes.

“That’s why we’re working with the profession to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease.”