Chris Bexon has survived brain surgery to remove a three-inch tumour. Now he has cycled coast to coast for the hospital that saved him, reports Catherine Scott.
For 10 years Chris Bexon had no idea he had a brain tumour. By the time he found out the tumour had grown to be the size of an apple and was so big it had changed the shape of his brain.
It was removed in a seven- and-half-hour operation at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Now Chris has completed a 170- mile cycle ride from the coast of Morecambe to the coast of Bridlington to raise money for Neurocare, the charity that supports the care and treatment of neuroscience patients being treated in Sheffield’s NHS hospitals.
Chris’s symptoms began in 2016 when he started to suffer from headaches which he put down to stress and fatigue, however after a few months he started to forget things and lost his balance.
“Originally when I had headaches I never took medications, I just got myself a coffee and they seemed to subside. But then one morning I had an almighty headache, it felt like my skull was being crushed and I asked my wife Alison for some painkillers. At that point she picked up the phone and told me to get down to the doctors because something must be wrong. I booked the appointment the same day whilst driving to work with Alison and I stopped at a red light.
“Alison asked me why had I stopped and told me the lights were on green, then at the next set of lights which I thought were green, she told me to stop because they were red. I was having cognitive delay in processing information, it was like a time lag of a few seconds which was a really strange sensation – I wouldn’t have even noticed if it wasn’t for Alison.”
His GP referred him for a routine head scan at Barnsley General Hospital which revealed that he had a three-inch tumour.
“My whole world dropped through the floor with shock and panic. I was stunned by it all, we had our business to run, I had jobs to do and I was going to let everyone down and that isn’t what I do, I’m always a reliable and dependable person.”
Surgeons at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital decided to operate immediately and he was told it was surprising he was still alive and the tumour’s size could cause a serious haemorrhage at any point resulting in death.
The tumour had bent Chris’s brain completely out of shape. It was a rare atypical tumour at grade 2, which after removal had the possibility of returning,
“The morning of the operation, I felt numb, it was a strange feeling. I didn’t have a choice though, I would die shortly due to a haemorrhage anyway so I had nothing to lose.”
Surgeons managed to remove all the tumour without damaging Chris’s brain. “In the recovery bay I remember being able to see, hear and then speak, things were looking good I could wiggle my fingers and toes.
“My next task was to get me to stand up, but my balance was poor, I couldn’t walk.”
Craniotomy surgery has debilitating effects as the brain has to reshape and recover immediately from the trauma.
“When I was told I could go home I was ecstatic, but sleep deprivation left me feeling ill. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
“I couldn’t even fasten my shirt the next morning, my left hand wouldn’t work properly so I just had to keep practising and a couple of days later, I managed it.
“It took me eight weeks to be able to walk 150 metres but after that I could walk an extra 50 metres every week, which was a great feeling.
“Through all of this my wife was holding me together, driving me around, taking me to appointments, motivating me, calming me down, she was simply amazing.”
Then once both Chris and Alison thought they were through the worst of it all, a 2.5 inch tumour was found in Chris’s neck which was revealed to be thyroid cancer which was successfully removed a couple of months later at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.
“Since my operations I’ve put systems in place to help me with my memory because I have a fear of forgetting things – I’ve got reminders on my phone, notebooks to keep information in and I do really well but not as well as I know is possible.
“I joined a Brain Tumour Group on Facebook, I noticed someone mention they had got themselves an electric bicycle to get around on. I did some research and I figured it would help me regain fitness and help with the fatigue without putting too much strain on me physically.
“I was smitten with the idea, a little independence back in my life, it was invaluable in my early recovery.
“Brain surgery causes fatigue in a debilitating way – it felt like my batteries were going flat with no warning. It was like my brain just decided ‘that’s enough, I’m shutting you down’. I lost my attention span, interest, my strength, stamina and energy and I just wanted to sleep.
“The cycling helped me to reduce this fatigue and it’s happening less the fitter and stronger I become.
“I wanted to raise money since the day I left the Hallamshire Hospital after brain surgery but I was never sure how I was going to do it until I spotted a group on Facebook raising funds for Rosa Robot for the Hallamshire and they were cycling Coast2Coast.
“I purchased a bike off the internet, rode it home and thought ‘what the hell have I done?’
“I was exhausted and devastated at how unfit I was – but it was too late to cancel.”
And luckily he didn’t as Chris successfully completed the ride and has raised more than £2,000 – smashing his original £500 target.
“I can’t thank the staff at the Hallamshire Hospital enough for what they’ve done – they’ve given me my life back.”
Chris Bexon is now invited to attend an annual brain scan which so far has shown no sign of the tumour re-growing, and his latest blood tests gave him the all-clear from thyroid cancer.
To give something back on a regular basis, Chris also volunteers on the Acute Stroke Unit every Tuesday afternoon as he finds he can relate to patients because of what he has gone through himself.
Anyone who wants to donate to Neurocare can do so at www.neurocare.org.uk/donate-now/
Or donations can be made directly to Chris’s Just Giving page: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-cycles-to-coast-for-neurocare