My brain tumour battle: 'Never let anyone take hope away from you'

Ballygarvan woman Lucy Martin’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. There followed a lengthy stint in hospital and a long road to recovery — but she got there, with the right support, writes CHRIS DUNNE
My brain tumour battle: 'Never let anyone take hope away from you'

Lucy Martin with husband Sam

LUCY Martin is living life to the full.

“I feel truly blessed,” says the 61-year-old, who believes that when we get knocks in life, we can rise above them because there is always hope. And she should know.

Ten years ago, back in 2011, Lucy spent 22 days in a coma and she suffered crippling PTSD as a result.

Life was rosy in the garden before then. Lucy worked for FBD insurance where she had a successful career. Enjoying public speaking, Lucy also taught drama in CADA and she treaded the boards, appearing in pantomime on stage while raising her son Chris and her daughter Amy.

“I began experiencing bad headaches for no apparent reason,” recalls Lucy, speaking about the beginning of her living nightmare.

“The doctor thought I might be suffering from vertigo. I was on medication and I often had to lie down to get relief from the awful headaches. It was a difficult time.”

Lucy, who doesn’t take things lying down, travelled to New York on holidays to see the Broadway shows.

“I went on the trip even though I wasn’t well,” she says. “When I returned, I went for an MRI in CUH.”

The discovery of a tumour which was wrapped around her brain was grim.

“I remember being very scared,” says Lucy. “My health had deteriorated a lot.”

She didn’t want to stop living the life she loved.

“I was scared of dying but I still thought about planning my funeral.”

Lucy underwent an 11-hour surgery, which was a very complicated operation and unfortunately she suffered a stroke during the course of the long procedure.

“I was put into an induced coma so that my brain had time to repair,” says Lucy.

“I also got an infection which meant having five or six further operations at various intervals to ‘wash out’ the brain. It was horrendous.”

But the horror was only beginning as Lucy entered a twilight zone for three long weeks; a zone that held her a prisoner where she had no control over herself; her thoughts, or the nightmares she experienced, which seemed to her to be living nightmares.

“The infection was raging in my brain,” says Lucy.

“I wasn’t aware that I was asleep. I believed I was awake.”

She believed other things.

“I thought my family were in danger. I was looking for Sam and the kids in an underground cave, trying to figure a way out.”

The nightmare got worse.

“At one point I could smell burning and I believed oil had been poured over the kids. The pictures would come and go like on a TV. The 22 days were a living hell.”

But she saw heaven too.

“I went to a really lovely place where people went after they died,” says Lucy. “It was so lovely and so peaceful. I saw people I knew.”

She saw beautiful pictures.

“It was a place where grandmothers sat and soothed the children on their laps. The music was beautiful and everything was tranquil.”

In real life, in the busy hospital, she was surrounded by love.

“Sam and the kids were in and out to the hospital day and night,” says Lucy.

“My ex-husband, Bertie, joined them to watch over me.”

The circle of love always knew love.

“When I met Sam, Bertie was happy for me,” says Lucy. “Bertie suffered ill-health and I was there for him when he was sick and when he passed away.”

Lucy’s loved ones were always there for her.

“I was in intensive care in CUH. For weeks I was in various places in the hospital. I spent six months there, from October 2011 to March 2012.”

She needed to leave hospital and get back to living a normal, fulfilling life again.

“I needed to get out of hospital, but there seemed very little hope,” says Lucy.

“On day 16, the doctors reviewed the situation and things were no better.”

Things seemed grim.

“I needed to prepare,” says Lucy.

For a different life?

“There was very little hope that I’d ever walk again,” says Lucy.

But hope surrounded her.

“Sam was upset. But being a farmer, he is very stoic and he is resilient. He believes there is a time for everything; a season for everything.”

Lucy believed that too. It wasn’t the time to give up hope, now, or ever. The land of the living was beckoning to her.

“Waking up from the coma is difficult to describe,” says Lucy.

“I woke up gradually and I wasn’t fully with it.”

Life was different.

“I was accompanied to the shower and I was in nappies,” she says.

She didn’t like what life was throwing at her.

Lucy Martin and husband Sam
Lucy Martin and husband Sam

“I had to be washed. I was told I was brain-damaged. I just wanted my independence back. I thought; at 51, I can wash myself, but I couldn’t get out of bed unaided. I had physiotherapy and Sam came every day.”

He bolstered her up. And he boosted her.

“Sam would put his arm under me and he propped me up with pillows.”

It was time to move on.

“There was talks of going to St Finbarr’s or to Mount Desert nursing home for rehabilitation” says Lucy. “I was willing myself to be well enough to go the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

“I felt that was the best place to recuperate.”

How was she feeling?

“I was crying and very often distraught,” says Lucy.

“I suffered awful panic attacks. I wanted to run out the back door of CUH but I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Lucy, like her husband, is resilient.

“I didn’t want the nurses to see me cry.”

Why not?

“If I cried, the psychologist team would come to see me. That really scared me.”

But it is natural to cry, especially after what Lucy had been through?

“Yes. They said, what do you expect? It is unnatural not to cry. But I was always so independent, I didn’t want to be dependent.”

Independence was making its way back to Lucy.

“I learned to walk in CUH. I’d walk to the chapel to say a prayer.”

Her prayers were answered when she was referred to the NRH.

“I met wonderful people there, like Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Fiadhnait O’Keefe, who told me there would be life after this.”

Lucy also credits Headway with her recovery.

“Headway helped people who didn’t speak for five or ten years. It was like coming home to family.”

Dr Marcia Ward,a physiologist, played a big part in Lucy’s recovery, giving her life back to her.

Lucy’s journey of recovery wasn’t always a smooth one.

“I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone,” she says.

“I needed help going to the loo and had no movement in my left hand.

“Driving up the motorway to the NRH with Sam, I thought, if I could throw myself out of the car, I’d be finished with everything.”

But the season of renewed hope had come.

“The NRH and the help of the psychology team there brought me back,” says Lucy.

It was a time to reap the rewards of enduring hope.

“I was told, ‘you’ll never swim again’,” says Lucy. “Now I take my grandchildren, Juliet and Drew swimming.”

Does Lucy ever drown in the flashbacks of her ordeal?

“I get slight flashbacks, yes. But I have the tools to deal with them and with peer support from Headway. All the help is amazing.”

Is anything a problem now for the resilient woman who brims with positivity?

“My left arm doesn’t move very well and it is a job to do up my bra! But I get there.”

Lucy has come a long way in 10 years.

“I live a very happy life,” she says. “I am nearly the happiest that I have ever been.”

She wallows in the green pastures of living, adding: “I think what happened to me made my life even richer. “

Lucy loves life.

“I love Sam, I love my children, I adore my three grandchildren.”

What else does the woman of all seasons love?

“I love the cows, I love the rain, I love the water falling on me in the shower where I can be mindful”

There is one slight glitch in paradise.

“You come after the cows!” says farmer Sam in the nicest possible way. He is forgiven.

“He’s been amazing,” says Lucy.

“He had to bring me to the bathroom and do the necessary. Sam and my son helped me walk again. I could see the future stretching ahead where I’d be a burden. I never thought I’d be able to do anything again.”

Lucy is independent again.

“At my stage of life, at 61, I couldn’t be happier,” says Lucy.

She has a message to send to anyone who is struggling with health issues or who suffered a stroke.

“Never let anyone take hope away from you,” says Lucy.

For information and confidential support, Freephone Headway on 1800-400-478 www.headway.ie

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