Amber Hanna spent years trying to get help for painful headaches but was told they were ‘just migraines’.
But when she started vomiting uncontrollably in February this year, doctors discovered she actually had a brain tumour, which had burst in her head.
The 17-year-old needed three operations to remove the rare choroid plexus tumour, which had caused a build-up of fluid on her brain.
Surgeons removed part of her skull to fit a drain to reduce the excess fluid.
They then injected glue into the tumour to make it easier to remove, which they did in a final operation two days later.
Amber, from Belfast, said: ‘I felt worse than ever and I couldn’t stop vomiting. The paramedics came and took me to Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH).
‘They scanned me and the first thing they discovered was a haemorrhage in my brain.
‘Later they found a tumour, which had burst, causing my sudden and extreme symptoms.
‘My amazing surgeon, Mr Mano Shanmuganathan, works at the hospital but lives in England.
‘I’m told he cancelled his flight home that day in order to stay and operate on me, as it was so urgent. I am so very grateful to him for that.’
Before the operation, Amber’s headaches were so bad, she was frequently missing school.
She had been suffering since she was a child but they got gradually worse and she was always told she was having migraines.
She said: ‘My mum took me to the GP over and over again to try to get me referred for a scan but we were always told it was just migraines, caused by stress.
‘I actually felt as if my migraines were causing me to be stressed and not the other way around.
‘I would get a throbbing pain in my head, blurred vision and ringing in my ears.
‘It was particularly bad in the morning, so waking up for school was really hard.
‘My attendance was so poor and I was put on a reduced timetable, so I didn’t have to start until later in the day.’
The operation finally explained years of pain and while she is recovering well, it has caused some other issues.
Amber developed epilepsy as an after-effect and also has a completely numb left arm and weakness in the left side of her body.
Amber said: ‘There is a bit of the tumour left, which they weren’t able to remove but the good news is that it is a low-grade tumour and they tend not to grow back.’
Amber, who lives with her mum Daniella, brother Sebastian, 26, and 23-year-old sister Charlotte, says her mental health has also improved since the diagnosis.
She added: ‘I haven’t gone back to school yet. I managed to sit some of my GCSE exams in the summer but I didn’t get the grades I should have got.’
Amber is now working with the charity Brain Tumour Research to help raise awareness of the disease and encourage people to sign a petition launched by the charity.
She is campaigning to increase the national investment into brain tumour research to £35 million a year, in line with other cancers such as leukaemia, breast and prostate.
She said: ‘I want to use my experience as a force for good.
‘I am so lucky that my tumour was treatable and that I have a bright future ahead of me.
‘My mental health is so much better than it was before my diagnosis and my physical health continues to improve.
‘The positive side of having emergency surgery was that I didn’t have time to get anxious about the operation – it just happened.
‘Above all, my family and I are just so relieved they found it and that it was treatable and I no longer suffer from the debilitating migraines I used to endure.
‘Sadly, that isn’t the case for so many other brain tumour patients and that needs to change.
‘I would urge everyone to sign the petition, to campaign for increased funding and ultimately, help find a cure for this awful disease.’
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