Why sailing the Atlantic and reaching North Pole is on my bucket list

Lisa Brassington with partner Tony Pike
Lisa Brassington with partner Tony Pike
  • Since being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour four years ago Lisa Brassington has decided to live life to the full. Catherine Scott meets her
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In the last four years Lisa Brassington has been skiing for the first time, learnt to sail, is taking acting classes and has even been on television as an extra in Emmerdale.

Next on her bucket list is a trip to the North Pole and plans to sail a yacht from Antigua to Southampton.

Lisa Brassington

Lisa Brassington

In February 2011 Lisa, 46, was diagnosed with a low-grade oligodendroglioma brain tumour. Due to its location, surgeons are unable to remove the entire tumour, which is now growing, and she lives with the anxiety of three-monthly scans. But this positive woman is determined her prognosis will not stop her living life to the full.

“I found out I had a brain tumour in February 2011,” explains Lisa, from Bradford,

“About two years before that I had been experiencing problems with my right ear. It constantly felt blocked and I went to the doctor and then a specialist but my hearing was fine and I was told there was nothing wrong.”

The problem persisted and, after a while, she went back. “This time they sent me for an MRI scan and they noticed something was wrong. A biopsy was taken and I was told I had a low-grade astocytoma brain tumour. However, in February 2012 it was told that the tumour was actually a different type, an oligodendroglioma but it was grade 2, so not too bad. My sight was affected in my left eye so I had glasses to help with that and there were many eye tests which followed. My sight is definitely deteriorating but not too badly at the moment.

“Looking back, it is very strange to recall that a year or so before I had the scan I said to my husband Tony that I thought I had a brain tumour. There was something wrong on my right hand side. Things started with a problem with my ear and then there I was with the diagnosis of a brain tumour. Of course I was shocked but, to be honest, it wasn’t the terrible shock it might have been had the thought never even crossed my mind.”

Four months after her diagnosis Lisa underwent an awake craniotomy at Leeds General Infirmary.

The surgery lasted from 8am until 5pm as surgeons tried to remove as much of the tumour as possible without damaging her brain.

“After the first 90 minutes I was woken up so the team could test my responses,” she recalls.

“During my brain operation I played on an iPad so the surgeons could see how what they were doing affected my eyesight, speech and recognition. The procedure went well. It was brilliant, unreal even. There was no pain and the medical team were fantastic. Within hours I was out of my hospital bed and walking.

“The location of my tumour meant it could not be fully removed and now my ‘loft lodger’ as I call it is growing. The prognosis I have been given is to expect to live for three to five years but this is just statistics and something which I do not dwell on. There are so many things I would like to do and I have decided to live life.”

However, for a long time after the operation Lisa said she felt like her brain had slowed down.

“I would get words wrong, saying ‘microwave’ when I meant the cooker or fridge and it took about a year before this improved. The tiredness I experienced was unbelievable. It is hard to explain but it was utterly debilitating. I had been temping as a PA but decided not to go back to work.” With such a dire prognosis, some people would have curled up in a ball and hidden. Not Lisa Brassington. Instead she has drawn up a bucket list of things she wants to do with the time she has left.

“I have started to have sailing lessons and next year I hope to crew on a yacht, sailing from Antigua to Southampton. Last year I went skiing for the first time. I am taking part in a dragon boat race. In 2013 I started acting classes and, to date, I have been in a short film and have worked as an extra on Emmerdale. I am also working with a playwright on a film.”

She recently conquered her fear of heights to do a 100m abseil from the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth’s tallest building, watched by her husband Tony Pike, for the Brain Tumour Research.

“Of course my diagnosis means this is a cause very close to my heart and, with its commitment to fund dedicated research centres, Brain Tumour Research really stands out. Research is our best hope.”

Sue Farrington Smith, chief executive of Brain Tumour Research, said: “Lisa’s positivity and determination are very inspiring; we are impressed by her bravery and really grateful for her support in raising vital funds and awareness of brain tumours. We are striving to fund a network of seven dedicated research centres while challenging the government and charities to invest more in brain tumour research in order to help patients like Lisa and their families. Help us fund the fight. Together we will fund a cure.”

Every three months Lisa has to go for a scan to see if the tumour has changed.

“Sometimes I have dark moments but I am a very positive person and have always been strong. It is hard on Tony. We have been together ten years – we really are life partners. Tony is absolutely brilliant; the support I have had from him is unbelievable. I feel fortunate in that I know what is happening inside my head, unlike some people who are diagnosed late and find out they have only a few months to live.”