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Shock brain tumour diagnosis inspire mum’s challenge to help find a cure

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A school-based youth worker from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire is raising money for Brain Tumour Research, in support of her 21-year-old son, who is living with a brain tumour. 

Mum-of-three Michelle Griffiths, 45, is taking on the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge to raise vital funds for the charity. It’s after her son James Griffiths, a mechanical engineer, was diagnosed with a grade 3 oligodendroglioma in November 2020, after suffering seizures over several months. 

Michelle, James and Alex

Michelle, who also has a 24-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, said: “James is really into his mountain biking and motocross. He was doing a competition one day in July 2019 when he fell and took a bump to the left side of his head. He had been wearing his helmet and felt OK, so decided not to go to hospital. Then, a few weeks later he was complaining of headaches and he was feeling more tired than usual. We wondered if it was the after-effects of his accident. I also noticed a slight change in his mood but it was nothing to write home about.

“Then, in December 2019, he was at work when all of a sudden he was unable to speak. He went to his GP, who said because James was young and healthy, there wasn’t much cause for concern but he was referred to the epilepsy clinic at Prince Philip Hospital for a head scan. We came away feeling reassured.”

James’ headaches and tiredness continued and months later he was still waiting for his referral when, in August 2020, he suffered a major seizure on a day out with friends in Mumbles in Swansea Bay.

Michelle, who works at St John Lloyd Catholic School in Llanelli, said: “I got a phone call to say James was at Morriston Hospital in Swansea. He’d collapsed and hurt his arm. His friends said he’d bitten his tongue and was frothing at the mouth. It was really scary.

“When James came round, he couldn’t remember anything. They took some details and referred him to the neurology department and he was sent home. I couldn’t help thinking that because of his age and the fact he’d been enjoying a day out with his mates, they were dismissing him as being drunk or drugged. That just wasn’t the case and he and I knew something was wrong.”  

A couple of days later James had another seizure and his dad, Gerard Griffiths, took him back to Morriston Hospital. James had an MRI scan and was told it was all-clear.

Michelle added: “Rather than relief, James came away feeling that nobody was listening. He was convinced there was something in his head but the fact they’d found nothing was a mystery. Meanwhile, he went back to work, which involved driving and using heavy machinery. With hindsight, it was so dangerous.”

James had another seizure in September 2020, when he was in the bathroom at his dad’s house. Gerard found him collapsed in the shower, paralysed on one side and covered in vomit, so he took him straight to Prince Philip Hospital. Frustratingly, James was checked over and sent home with paracetamol.

A few weeks later, James had a call from consultant neurologist Professor Powell at Morriston Hospital, to tell him that they had, in actual fact, found some swelling on his brain.

Michelle said: “After the phone call James couldn’t recall much of the conversation, so I rang and asked to speak to somebody. The following day, I got a call from a different doctor to tell me that James had been diagnosed with a large tumour on the left side of his brain. At that point, my world fell apart.”

James was put on steroids to reduce the swelling in his brain, while he waited for his case to be discussed by the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) in Cardiff.

Michelle said: “In the meantime, James’ sister Lucy took him back to Prince Philip Hospital, where the doctors explained more about the tumour, showing them the scan images and confirming its exact size and location. I was extremely grateful for that and then they quickly got the ball rolling for the MDT meeting.

“After that we had a video call with consultant neurosurgeon Kathrin Whitehouse, who talked us through the next steps. The way she dealt with James was amazing, putting him at ease. I felt confident putting all my trust in her.”

On 20 November 2020, James had a six-hour craniotomy at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. His surgeon was able to remove 80% of the tumour and a sample was sent away for a biopsy, which revealed it was a grade 3, meaning he would need further cancer treatment.

Michelle said: “James has nearly finished a 6.5-week course of radiotherapy at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, which has made him feel really tired and sick. He is having a week’s break before he starts a 12-month course of chemotherapy, to try to shrink the remainder of the tumour.

“It’s been particularly tough for him to deal with, as the COVID-19 restrictions mean he can’t see his friends in between treatment. He has also had to surrender his driving licence, which has been really hard for someone who usually loves driving.”

Inspired by James, Michelle and Lucy are joining thousands of other fundraisers around the country by putting her best foot forward in February, to part in a 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge, to raise money for Brain Tumour Research.

Steps can be completed however and with whoever participants like, ensuring they follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Whether it’s heading to the local park to enjoy some fresh air, discovering a new running route every day or staying at home and completing the challenge around the house or garden, the possibilities are endless. Registrants can step out on their own, with members of their household or support bubble – whichever suits them best.

Michelle said: “I think in this kind of situation you either sink or swim and I have decided to try to do the latter and do something positive. You never think this will happen to you but it has and I’m having to deal with it and try to accept it. I’ve been able to do that thanks to the incredible support of Lucy, Gerard and all James’ family and friends.

James and Lucy

“Through James’ diagnosis I was shocked to discover that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease. I’ve joined the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Facebook group and have been inspired reading other people’s stories. Before our own experience, I didn’t realise just how many people are affected by this awful disease. I hope by sharing my story, I can encourage other people to recognise the early signs of a brain tumour and to push back if they’re not happy with a doctor’s assessment.”

“James is amazing, taking it all in his stride and staying optimistic. He is my motivation and I want to make him proud.”

Joe Woollcott, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We were so sorry to learn about James’ diagnosis and wish him all the very best with the next stage of his treatment. Our thoughts are with him, Michelle and the whole family.

“What Michelle and Lucy doing in support of their loved one is really inspirational and will be with them every step of the way, helping to get us closer to a cure. James’ story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. We are determined to continue in our mission to find a cure for this terrible disease, to help prevent families like the Griffiths from dealing with this devastating diagnosis.

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

To donate to Brain Tumour Research via Michelle’s fundraising page, visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/407939230416154/

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Christmas savings worth £245 from Boundless for Llanelli families

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WITH just over two months before Christmas, now’s the time to start thinking about wonderful ways to entertain the family in the run up to the festive period. Thanks to a new selection of days out and discounts from Boundless, worth up to £245*, it’s easy for people to make the most of their free time with family and friends for so much less.

Added to the club’s already impressive roster of activities, getaways, holidays, group activities and savings are four new deals that promise to inject much-needed affordable and magical moments into everyone’s lives after a tough couple of years. 

Darren Milton at Boundless said: “We’re thrilled to be able to offer our Llanelli members new fun and inventive ways to enjoy the precious time they spend away from work and with their families and friends. 

“Our members have been working especially hard over the past 24 months, and we want to give them the chance to switch off and make memories with the people that matter to them most.” 

The four new offers are included in the overall Boundless membership deal, which is open to all public sector employees and civil servants, working and retired, for just £29 a year.

They include access to the expansive WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre in Carmarthenshire, and other sites throughout the country, at no additional cost, thanks to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which offers complimentary family admission to include the member plus an adult guest and up to six children.

Members also have 12-month access to Kids Pass, which offers 2,000+ savings at a wide range of days out including zoos, aquariums and all the major theme parks with ‘kids eat free’ offers too.

Taking everyone out for a delicious meal needn’t mean forking out over the odds either. Thanks to Dine, there are impressive discounts – such as 50% off and 241 on mains – for all members at thousands of restaurants and coffee shops nationwide, including several throughout Llanelli, with a focus on local, quality, independent venues.

For those travelling further afield, what could be better than a trip to the magical Kew Gardens in Southwest London or Wakehurst in West Sussex? All Boundless members can take advantage of unlimited complimentary admission to both venues, plus 50% off for an adult guest per member, and free entry for up to five children. To get ahead with the Christmas shopping, there’s also a 10% discount at the onsite and online gift shops.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore Kew’s 320 acres of flora and fauna and Wakehurst’s 500 acres of diverse woodland, and to experience the beauty of nature with the whole family while learning about biodiversity and the work that this organisation does to protect the Earth’s delicate ecosystem.

For more information on membership and all offers, visit boundless.co.uk/benefits

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17-year-old rescue dog finds love again

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17 Year Old Duke

A GOLDEN OLDIE who is over 100 years old in dog years finally knows what love is after being rescued by the RSPCA.

Akita Duke – who is 17 years old or 104 in dog years – was rescued by police and taken in by the RSPCA in August after he was left inside a property in South Wales.

Inspector David Milborrow was called to the home on 23 August by South Wales Police who found the dog in poor health. Duke was taken in by the RSPCA’s South Cotswolds branch.

Haley Medlock – digital and community fundraiser for Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home – said: “Poor Duke was in quite a state when he arrived here. He was underweight and very unsteady on his legs. He was suffering from severe muscle loss, knuckling of his hind limbs and sores on his back legs. Walking is a real struggle for him.

“Despite all of this, he is full of love and adores cuddling up to our staff and snoozing in the sunshine. Realistically we don’t know how long this lovely lad has left but we’re determined to ensure his final weeks or months are the best they can be.”

The team placed him up for adoption or fostering but had no interest in him due to his age and his failing health. That is until first-time fosterers Kate* and her family got in touch to offer him a foster home to live out his days.

Kate said: “We lost our dog in January and when we saw Duke’s advert on Facebook we were so sad that he hadn’t had any applications. We felt every dog deserves a loving home, especially in those later years and, being a vet student studying at home, I felt we could offer him a suitable home.

“He’s getting on so well and settled in straight away. His personality is really coming through now, he’s doing much better with his mobility around the house and he barks when we get his harness out for a walk. He gets so excited when my parents come home from work and wags his tail.

“Considering all he’s been through it is lovely to see that he can still trust people and that’s testament to the work of the RSPCA and his wonderful carers at Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home.”

“Duke is so happy in his new foster home and is loving the home comforts and attention he deserves,” Haley added. “We can’t thank his new family enough for providing him with a safe and loving space to enjoy life.

“Now we’re looking for wonderful supporters to sponsor Duke and help him in his new home. He has costly daily pain relief, medication for his joints and cream to treat his sores. We’d also like to buy him a high-quality harness and walking aid to help him get back on his paws.

“The cost of his ongoing care is expected to be around £550 so we’re appealing to local people who have followed his story and fallen in love with this old lad to help us support him so he can have the best retirement possible.”

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Small Grants Scheme launched by Police and Crime Commissioner aimed at reducing acquisitive crimes in Llanelli

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Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn has today launched the Safer Street small grant scheme for projects aimed at reducing acquisitive crimes.

Up to £2000 is available through the scheme for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups in part of the Elli Tyisha wards of Llanelli. (Map of eligible area is available in guidelines document – link below.)

The small grants scheme is part of the Safer Streets initiative whereby funding was secured earlier this year by the Police and Crime Commissioner in partnership with Carmarthenshire Safer Communities Partnership from the Home Office.

The funding will support the development of projects that have a direct impact on these local communities in Elli and Tyisha that will make residents feel safer and reduce demand on the police.

In 2020, Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn launched a small grants scheme for an area in Glanymor and another area of the Tyisha ward of Llanelli.  Following this additional funding from the Home Office, the Commissioner is now able to launch a separate grants scheme for part of the Elli and Tyisha wards.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said; “I am delighted to announce this additional small grant fund today that is part of the Safer Street funding scheme that I secured earlier this year.

“Ensuring the security and safety of residents is a priority of mine – everyone deserves to live safely, and free from harm.

“Acquisitive offences are the crimes that the public are most likely to encounter, and they are estimated to cost society billions of pounds every year. There is strong evidence that these crimes can be prevented by tactics that either remove opportunities to commit crime or act as a deterrent by increasing the chances of an offender being caught.

“I have invested significantly in the area over recent years with community grants I made available in addition to the new CCTV system that is in place across the town. This new additional funding will further build upon my work over recent years and I hope the residents will feel a positive difference in their communities.”

Cllr Ann Davies, Executive Board Member for Communities and Rural Affairs and Chair of the Safer Community Partnership said: “The Council and Safer Communities Partnership are really pleased to have been able to work with the Police and Crime Commissioner on securing this funding. We are delighted to be part of this initiative to help our residents be safer and feel safer, building on our ongoing work in these communities to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. 

“The Partnership is made up of local partners that all aim to make Carmarthenshire safer, including the Council, Police, Fire and Rescue Service, Probation and Health. We will be happy to support local organisations to help us all achieve that aim, so please contact us with your ideas before 17 September.”

Closing date for applications is the 17th of September. Funding guidelines and application form can be downloaded from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s website here.

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