Brain cancer battle
Like flowers budding in spring, Alana-Mae Swain hopes the hair growing back on her head signals new life: one free from brain cancer.
For the past nine months, Alana-Mae, with the support of her family and husband Isaac, has undergone gruelling surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to rid herself of a stage 2 (bordering stage 3) anaplastic astrocytoma brain tumour.
Brain cancer kills more Australians under 40 than any other cancer (according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) and Ms Swain said people need to “listen to their bodies”.
“In September last year, four months after I was married, I had a grand mal seizure. I woke up to get ready and fell out of bed. I was taken to hospital in an ambulance, they ran some tests including a CT scan which showed a mass in my brain.
“They said it looked benign and sent me for further tests at the Alfred where they booked me in for a November surgery.”
Ms Swain was studying at TAFE at the time and put her constant headaches down to stress and exhaustion but reoccurring headaches was something she was familiar with.
“I’m originally from Adelaide and five years ago, I’d get them all the time. I had to keep leaving work and lost my job because of it. They ran some tests but never did a CT scan.”
In the lead up to the surgery, Ms Swain was having up to 30 seizures a day, forcing her to completely lose feeling in her right hand and withdraw from study.
“I went in for surgery and afterwards the neurosurgeon said they’d taken the majority of the tumour out and it was cancerous. They told me I’d have treatment for stage 3-4 cancer (radiation for six weeks and 12 months of chemotherapy).”
Ms Swain said while the journey has been hard, little things have helped, like receiving a random message from the Peace of Mind Foundation.
“I got a message from Bec Picone who runs Peace of Mind saying she’d like to give us a gift to help over Christmas, she gave us a $500 gift voucher which meant we could enjoy Christmas Day. Another lady from Peace of Mind brought us over some food and nice bath products. We were so grateful for these amazing gifts and random acts of kindness.”
Ahead of her fourth round of chemotherapy and with her latest MRI showing the tumour is shrinking, Ms Swain is imploring people to “trust their instincts” when it comes to their body.
“I knew it was more than me just being tired, the doctors said the tumour had been there for 10 years. It would’ve made a big difference if they found it a long time ago.”