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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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Llanelli’s good causes urged to apply for Co-op Local Community Fund

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THERE is one week left for local causes in Llanelli to apply for the Co-op’s Local Community Fund.

Over the past six years Co-op has supported 94 local causes in Llanelli and local groups have until May 29 to apply for funding via coop.co.uk/causes.

The fund is continuing to support local organisations that are involved in providing access to food, helping to improve mental wellbeing or provide opportunities for young people and, for the first time, causes that are working to protect local biodiversity or tackle climate change.

Groups looking to deliver projects in any of these areas are being encouraged to apply online for the fund, which, through the help of Co-op members, has raised over £85m for nearly 30,000 projects since it began in 2016.

When Co-op Members buy selected Co-op products and services from Co-op, 2p for every £1 spent goes into their Co-op Membership account. The same amount is then given to support national community organisations through the Community Partnership Fund and local causes via the Local Community Fund.

Members can choose the causes they wish to support and, with the help of Co-op’s Community Wellbeing Index, go online to compare their community with 28,000 others across the UK. By entering a postcode the Index will reveal a community’s overall wellbeing score and indicate its performance across nine specific areas, including education, health and open spaces, helping members prioritise where to send their support.

Rebecca Birkbeck, Director of Community and Membership at the Co-op said: “Since the Local Community Fund began, we have raised an amazing £85m for grassroots causes, as a direct result from the support of our members.

“Also, by applying for the Local Community Fund, groups will join our online community centre, Co-operate, which can help them find additional resources, as well as further donations, making this not just a fund, but a partnership.

“Even if a funding application is not successful, the group will still be a part of a network of over 12,000 groups on Co-operate.

“And for the first time I’m so pleased to announce that we have extended the criteria to include causes that are particularly dedicated to helping tackle biodiversity and carbon reduction, from local community gardens to small scale renewable energy schemes.”

Causes wanting more information about applying for the next round of the Co-op’s Local Community Fund should visit coop.co.uk/causes. Applications close on 29th May 2022.

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Nearly 7,000 in Wales sign up for UK’s biggest ever plastics investigation

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THE BIG PLASTIC COUNT, the UK’s biggest ever investigation into household plastic waste, kicks off today.

Over 140,000 are planning to take part across the country, including schools, Westminster MPs, community groups, businesses, families and individuals. 6,804 people in Wales have signed up, including nine MPs and 80 teachers who will be taking part with their classes.

The Big Plastic Count is a collaboration between Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace UK.

Celebrities including Chris Packham, Joanna Lumley and Bonnie Wright are also taking part.

94 cross-party Westminster MPs, including 9 from Wales, 3,500 school classes from all over the UK and People’s Postcode Lottery have also signed up.

The UK produces more plastic waste per person than any other country except the USA.

In 2018, the country generated 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste, enough to fill Wembley Stadium six times over.

The UK also exports vast quantities of plastic waste abroad, as highlighted last year by Greenpeace’s Wasteminster viral animation.

The Big Plastic Count will reveal how much plastic packaging waste is leaving UK homes and what happens to it after we throw it away.

This will provide a national snapshot of our plastic waste problem, filling a crucial evidence gap and showing the UK government and supermarkets that they must act to tackle the problem.

Chris Packham said: “The UK is one of the worst plastic polluters in the world. Our broken recycling system doesn’t work so instead of dealing with our plastic waste ourselves, we send vast quantities of it overseas where it’s out of sight and out of mind for us, but destroying nature and harming people elsewhere.”

“The Big Plastic Count is such an exciting project. It will, for the first time, tell ordinary people what happens to their plastic waste after we throw it away, and we hope it will force the government to take action and address the plastic waste crisis.”

Chris Thorne, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “The biggest ever investigation into the UK’s plastic waste is officially underway.”

“We’re delighted that so many people across Wales have signed up, making clear once again that the public is concerned about their plastic waste, and want to see genuine action from the government to turn the tide on our plastics crisis.”

“That means an immediate end to us dumping our waste on other countries like Turkey, and legally binding targets that actually tackle the plastic problem at source.”

Daniel Webb of Everyday Plastic said: “I decided to count all of my plastic waste for a whole year back in 2017. Doing so helped me to understand my personal plastic footprint, which completely shocked me and drove me to begin campaigning for change. ”

The results from The Big Plastic Count will show us what’s really happening to our plastic waste, at a national scale, and inspire thousands of participants to demand real action to stem the tide of plastic packaging.

“This really is a crucial moment in the struggle against the plastic problem.”

“We hope the results of The Big Plastic Count will persuade the government, supermarkets and big brands to take bold steps to tackle the plastic crisis once and for all, which is extremely exciting, perhaps even revolutionary.”

Every participant will record the different types of plastic packaging waste they throw away, and submit their results. This will generate a national picture of our plastic waste, demonstrating the scale of the problem and putting even more pressure on the government to act.

The unique methodology behind the Big Plastic Count was developed by Everyday Plastic’s founder, Daniel Webb.

He collected every piece of his plastic waste for a year, and worked with a scientific researcher to turn this into a robust methodology which the public can now use to discover what happens to their plastic waste when they throw it away.

Surveying by YouGov for Greenpeace UK found that while over three-quarters (77%) of people in the UK recycle plastic products to reduce their waste, almost as many (75%) don’t know what happens to their plastic recycling after they throw it away.

Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic will release the results of the survey as soon as they have been processed. Campaigners hope these results will push the UK government to reduce single-use plastic by 50% by 2025, ban all plastic waste exports and implement a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for recycling and reuse.

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Extension of shuttle bus from Llanelli to vaccination centre

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HYWEL DDA University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi , will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week. Please note there will be no service at 12pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court SA15 3AW. The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On February 21, 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

Strict COVID-19 safety measures will be in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service:

  • All passengers and drivers must wear a face covering, unless medically exempt
  • A maximum of 14 passengers will allowed per journey
  • A screen will be in place between driver and passengers
  • Passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day

Before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, we advise checking the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times  https://hduhb.nhs.wales/covid19-vaccination

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