James Griffiths first noticed something wasn’t right after a fall during a mountain bike competition.
The 21-year-old from Llanelli had hit his head and suffered weeks of headaches and tiredness but didn’t think it was serious enough to get it checked out.
It wasn’t until four months later when he was at work and suddenly unable speak he went to see a doctor.
He visited his GP and was told that it was probably nothing to worry about but James went on to suffer months of headaches, tiredness and eventually seizures.
More than a year later, in November 2020, he was given the devastating news that he had a Grade Three oligodendroglioma.
The keen biker underwent surgery at the University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, to remove 80% of the tumour, but is facing more gruelling cancer therapy and has been forced to hand over his driving licence.
His mum Michelle, who is now raising money for Brain Tumour Research in his support, 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 in August 2020, while he was still waiting for a referral, he suffered a major seizure while on a day out with friends in the Mumbles.
Michelle, who also has a 24-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, 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 in Swansea. James had an MRI scan and was told it was all-clear.
Michelle said: “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.”
- Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer
- In the UK, 16,000 people each year are diagnosed with a brain tumour
- Brain tumours kill more children than leukaemia
- Brain tumours kill more men under 70 than prostate cancer
- Brain tumours kill more women under 35 than breast cancer
- Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years compared with an average of 50% across all cancers
- Historically, just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumours.
James went on to suffer 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.
He took him straight to Prince Philip Hospital but James was checked over and sent home with paracetamol.
But a few weeks later, James had the devastating call from a consultant neurologist at Morriston Hospital to tell him that they had 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 multidisciplinary team 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 a consultant neurosurgeon who talked us through the next steps. The way she dealt with James was amazing, putting him at ease.
“I felt confident in putting all my trust in her.”
On November 20 of last year, James had a six-hour craniotomy at University Hospital of Wales.
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 Three – 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.”
Now, his mum Michelle Griffiths is taking on the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge to raise vital funds for Brain Tumour Research to support his battle.
Inspired by James, Michelle and Lucy are joining thousands of other fundraisers around the country by putting her best foot forward in February.
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 is amazing, taking it all in his stride and staying optimistic. He is my motivation and I want to make him proud.”
To donate to Brain Tumour Research via Michelle’s fundraising page visit facebook.com/donate/407939230416154.
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.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk