Tony Kirwin

Tony Kirwin

“Brain tumours are incredibly rare, so your chances of getting one are remote, and in any case, brain tumours don’t happen to us.” It wasn’t a reasoned opinion, but it was what I thought prior to my husband, Tony being diagnosed as having a brain tumour in July 1996. So when the doctor told us he had some bad news and that the results of an MRI scan showed a tumour on the right side of Tony’s brain, the thunderbolt struck.
Tony's Tribute

I can remember holding on to Tony’s arm as if he was going to be taken away from me there and then. I suppose I had the classic symptoms of shock, I felt sick. Tony seemed to take it calmly. He asked a few questions and then went quiet. It was then that I said, “He is going to be all right, isn’t he?” Up to that point my experience of illness was if you rested, took the tablets or had some physiotherapy you got better.

We were first aware of something being wrong with Tony when he had a fit as we were going on holiday in May 1996. We had stopped on our way to France to look around Canterbury and we were outside the Cathedral when he suddenly lost consciousness and fell to the floor. This had never happened before. An ambulance was called and we spent several hours in accident and emergency, but the tests they carried out revealed nothing and we were sent away with the information that it was probably “just one of those things.” I wasn’t so sure and when it happened again a few weeks later as I was driving us home from a shopping trip to Leeds, I raced him straight to the LGI. This time we were told that he had probably fainted, that it was nothing sinister, but that a brain scan should be done just to be sure; we would be sent an appointment.

When I look back I can see that there were other signs that all was not well. Little things seemed to get on top of Tony, which was out of character. I can remember him being really annoyed about a television programme and I knew that he wasn’t at all happy about things happening at work, which to me seemed quite insignificant. At the time I assumed he needed a holiday and a good rest.

Tony’s treatment started immediately. Before the end of the week he had undergone brain surgery. This was followed by a course of radiotherapy and a return to work 6 months later. Life was beginning to get back to normal again and I started to believe that he had been one of the lucky ones and that he was “going to be all right.” That was until the telltale signs started the alarm bells ringing again. Tony occasionally had headaches behind his eyes. I then noticed that he was walking in to things on his left side and was unaware he had done so. Sleep patterns started to go awry; he couldn’t tie his shoelaces properly and would leave drawers open and taps running without being aware he had done so. When he put a polo shirt on back to front without realising, I really did start to worry. The problem was that these things happened intermittently and over a period of several weeks, so I could convince myself that I was being paranoid. The fitting had stopped and there was no character change as before. On one visit to the doctors Tony’s steroids were increased and there was a dramatic improvement. I can remember the relief, as this proved to me that it wasn’t a tumour, but swelling in the brain, caused by all the treatment he had received.

As I write this it reminds me of King Canute trying to hold back the tide. We both wanted desperately to believe that he was going to be all right. Tony was a real fighter and was determined that it wasn’t going to get the better of him, so we latched on to every positive sign we could and kept each other going.

That was until he had trouble walking properly and a return to the oncologist prompted a CT scan. In my heart of hearts I knew before we were told that it had returned. More surgery was needed, surgery which left Tony as if he had had a stroke. He was in hospital for 8 weeks this time until he had learnt to walk again. The operation was followed by chemotherapy, which over the months made him sink lower and lower. He slept for long periods of time, lost his appetite and was sick, but he would not give in to it.

I was told in January 1998 that there was nothing more that could be done for Tony. He was cared for at home and had some quality of life until about 18 hours before he died on March 6th 1998 aged 48.

There were many low points in our ordeal, but equally there were good times too. It certainly put a perspective on life and we made sure we enjoyed our time together.

We couldn’t have coped without the love and support of family and friends. Tony was superbly looked after by a team of doctors, most notably his surgeon and our GP. I know he was given the best medical care possible at the time. But perhaps the one thing that sustained us most was our Christian faith, for I believe that Tony lives on and that one-day I will see him again.

So my dearest wish is that medical research will break new ground and that one-day a couple will be sitting in a doctor’s surgery to be told that one of them has a brain tumour. This time my question of “He is going to be all right isn’t he?” can be answered with a "yes".

Written by Helen Kirwin, Tony’s Wife
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