Kettering dad talks of his daughter’s fight against cancer in his own words

Cat Anderson

Cat Anderson

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A Kettering dad is supporting a campaign to raise awareness of the cancer which his daughter was diagnosed with in 2014.

Cat Anderson was 36 when she was told she had a brain tumour.

Rab Anderson with his daughter Cat

Rab Anderson with his daughter Cat

Her family and friends rallied round to help and they set up the Cat in a Hat fundraising group.

Cat and her dad Rab Anderson are now campaigning with the national charity Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness during March, which is National Brain Tumour Awareness Month.

Now in its seventh year, the campaign will see people at schools and workplaces across the country donning hats of all descriptions, organising hat-themed events and making donations to the charity on March 24.

It is hoped Wear A Hat Day sends a message of hope, solidarity and support for patients and families like Cat’s who have been affected by the disease.

Cat in one of her many hats

Cat in one of her many hats

Here is Cat’s story as told by her father Rab Anderson of Kettering:

“Cat’s son Robert was born on January 5, 1999.

“He had a cleft palate and lip which was quite a shock to start with until a surgeon explained that it could be put right.

“Robert had the first of several operations when he was just six-months-old.

Robert Dunn with mum Cat

Robert Dunn with mum Cat

“The final operation to take a bone graft from his hip to fill the gap in his mouth took place when Robert was still at Danesholme Junior School in Corby.

“They were therefore no strangers to hospitals.

“Robert Dunne is now 17, 6ft 2in, and his mother’s pride and joy.

“After leaving Uppingham Community College last year, he started a photography course at Leicester College and is about to start driving lessons.

“It was back in June 2014 that Cat started consistently complaining about having headaches and feeling tired, but none of us was unduly concerned.

“We put it down to Cat being quite sporty – running and going to the gym – and just thought she was over-doing things a bit.

“Early the following month, we were getting ready to go to a family wedding back in Glasgow (where Cat was born and still has lots of family) when Cat started feeling “sea-sick” and dizzy.

“She was diagnosed with labyrinthitis – some days she felt fine and other days not.

“Then one day Cat had a mini-seizure in the car – fortunately she wasn’t driving.

“Her partner, James, took her straight to A&E, but she was sent home having been told it was due to a migraine.

“Ironically, Cat was worried she might have a brain tumour, but I didn’t think this to be the case, even though I work as a nurse.

“I was, however, quite insistent that Cat should seek further clarification about her diagnosis.

“I suggested she went back to the GP, which she did, and he made a referral to an ENT consultant.

“An appointment was arranged with an ENT consultant at the private hospital where I work.

“Cat was asked to do a variety of physical tests and although the consultant wasn’t too concerned, her inability to do some of these satisfactorily motivated him to organise a CT scan just to make sure.

“Following the scan, Cat was asked to come back into the hospital.

“I was at work that morning and was able to join her.

“It was August 18 – the day before her birthday.

“The consultant said: ‘I am really sorry, but we have some very bad news.’

“Cat didn’t want to hear it.

“She just shut down.

“The scan report said there was a tumour and it was suggested that it might be metastatic.

“Cat had previously found lumps in her breast which she had been told were harmless, but now her mum and I began to wonder.

“We were sent to Addenbrooke’s Hospital so that Cat could have an MRI scan and the results came back quickly.

“Cat was in a state of shock and kept saying: ‘Talk to my dad.’

“James and I were told by a specialist nurse that the tumour didn’t have any blood supply and didn’t look cancerous.

“They were optimistic that they could remove all the tumour – it all seemed more hopeful than we had previously been led to believe.

“Surgery was booked for the following week.

“Poor Cat, who had always been frightened even of needles, was forced to toughen up.

“After about six hours or so in the operating theatre, one of the team told us that they had managed to completely remove the tumour.

“Cat was still in a daze, but I was thinking hang on a minute, don’t get too excited.

“The results of the biopsy brought us crashing back down.

“The tumour was malignant, cancerous.

“They hadn’t been able to get it all out either.

“The only good news was that it was slow-growing.

“Cat came home, but didn’t get on as well as was hoped.

“She was putting a brave face on things, but James could see that she wasn’t good and also noticed that her memory had deteriorated.

“When he noticed pus coming from her wound, she had to go back into hospital as it was realised that she suffering with an infection.

“They put in a drain and took a bone flap out of her skull.

“After that, Cat was back and forth to Addenbrooke’s on a strong dose of antibiotics and needing to have regular blood tests.

“James was often having to call the hospital with concerns over Cat’s welfare.

“Her medical team was unhappy with the results of a further scan and decided in early December that Cat should have more surgery.

“It was then that we were given the devastating news that the tumour had progressed to being grade four (from grade two).

“They couldn’t explain why it had changed so quickly but told us they had even re-checked the initial biopsy.

“They insisted there had been no mistake.

“We tried to make Christmas as good as we could.

“Cat was brilliant – so brave and positive, which made it so much easier.

“She decided we should have a silly Christmas jumper theme and so, along with our other daughters and their families we all donned our seasonal sweaters for the day and had a good laugh.

“Cat had already decided that she didn’t want her condition to dictate our lives even though she had been told that she would be having radiotherapy and chemo for six weeks on a daily basis.

“She went to my local barber and asked him to cut off her hair back to a short crop as she thought that it would be easier than finding that her shoulder-length hair was coming out in clumps.

“From then on she started wearing hats and has gathered quite a collection having had many donated to her by kind-hearted family and friends.

“It also led to my brother, Sam, and one of Cat’s sisters having an idea to set up a support page on Facebook called Hats for Cat as a way of updating people with the latest news of Cat’s treatment.

“One of my grandsons then suggested the name Cat in a Hat.

“The page was particularly helpful for our family in Scotland and meant we didn’t have to keep on answering questions about Cat’s health all the time.

“People could easily find out the latest developments.

“We had so many people wanting to help – including offers to help pay the expenses of our daily trips to Addenbrooke’s, as well as morale boosters like my niece Charlene doing a head-shave, along with my 11-year-old granddaughter Safie and Charlene’s husband, Robert, who had his chest and legs waxed.

“In the end it turned into a big fundraising event which raised around £4,000, including match-funding of £1,000 from Robert’s company British American Tobacco.

“Cat’s 16-year-old cousin Shannon also had her head shaved a week later, raising several hundred pounds herself.

“A family friend Laura Brown held a family fun day at Wicksteed Park in Kettering with monster trucks, characters from the film Frozen, stalls, musicians, candyfloss, beat the goalie and a treasure hunt, all of which helped to raise more than £1,000.

“Also, further funds were raised when a local fitness trainer, Jason Strachan, took a group of his students, which included Cat’s then 16-year-old son Robert, round a 10k assault course called “The Suffering” at Rockingham Castle, resulting again in more than £1,000 of donations.

“By the time that friends of the family had held an open mic night at one of our local pubs and Cat’s best friend, Tara, had completed a 10K sponsored walk with a group of friends and supporters, we decided that it was time to organise ourselves more formally into an official fundraising group called appropriately Cat in a Hat raising funds for pioneering UK charity, Brain Tumour Research.

“Along with so many of Cat’s friends and family members, and despite my nursing background, I was shocked to find that just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to brain tumours, yet it is the biggest cancer killer of the under 40s.

“We are all doing our bit to make a real difference and hope that more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for brain tumours can be found, and soon.

“Meanwhile Cat remains positive and upbeat.

“She says that no-one can really tell when they are going to die - you could be killed in an accident tomorrow.

“Her mantra is: ‘I don’t feel like dying, so I am just not going to bother.’

Facts:

- Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

- 16,000 people each year are diagnosed with a brain tumour

- Less than 20 per cent of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years compared with an average of 50 per cent across all cancers

- One in 50 of all people who die under the age of 60 die from a brain tumour

- 71 per cent of those that die of a brain tumour are under the age of 75 (compared to 47 per cent for all cancers)

- Incidences and deaths from brain tumours are increasing