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Mom-To-Be's Relentless Headaches Turn Out To Be Incurable Brain Tumor The Size Of Two Golf Balls

Katie Wilkinson ( Shelly Fullerton, Magical Moments, South Petherton/ PA Real Life)

Katie Galan-Wilkinson was told she had a malignant brain tumor "the size of two golf balls" while she was pregnant.

Galan-Wilkinson started waking in the night at 32 weeks pregnant with severe headaches and a weird metallic smell in her nostrils, she thought her symptoms were caused by anxiety.

But, at 39 weeks, she suffered a serious seizure in her sleep, prompting her husband Daniel to take her to the hospital, where a series of tests revealed she had stage three anaplastic astrocytoma – a rare and incurable type of brain tumor.

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Less than 24 hours later, with the prospect of death looming over her, Wilkinson was told that she needed to be induced, bringing little Mario into the world a week early.

“Within 48 hours I'd gone from believing I was just stressed out to having a seizure and being told I had a brain tumor the size of two golf balls," Wilkinson said.

“Then, to be told I had to have my baby there and then was awful. I know it sounds strong, but I felt violated – like I was being forced to have my baby."

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“When Mario arrived, I sobbed with grief and utter devastation, as this beautiful moment had been stolen by my brain tumor. His birth was overshadowed by my tumor and I felt overwhelmed with guilt," she said.

“There were no joyous phone calls to friends and family to say my little one had arrived. Instead, it was all about my tumor and I felt heartbroken – even though, at that point, I didn't know how long I'd have left."

Wilkinson was admitted to Southmead Hospital in Bristol for a 10-hour operation to remove as much of the tumor as possible.

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

She has since had 33 rounds of radiotherapy and is currently on her seventh round of an anticipated 12 chemotherapy sessions.

Despite such intensive treatment, the cancer remains incurable.

Now, Wilkinson is speaking to raise awareness of organizations like Brain Tumour Research.

“I've been given around three to eight years left to live. This type of cancer doesn't yet have a cure, all they can do is prolong my life," she said.

“Brain Tumour Research is my only hope and I want to speak out to raise awareness of the work they do."

“Before I fell ill, I had no idea that brain tumors were a cancer – it's not spoken about enough and people like me don't know the symptoms to look out for. Sometimes, I have dark days where I wonder how my children will be without me, or if they'll even remember me."

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“But then I remember that someone somewhere is sitting in a lab trying to find a cure, which they could well do, and that gives me hope," Wilkinson said.

When Wilkinson and Daniel found out they were expecting baby number three in October 2018 they were overjoyed.

“Whenever we were out and about, we'd always see families with three children. We felt like having that extra little person would make our family complete," she said.

Katie and her children (Collect/ PA Real Life)

The first stages of pregnancy went smoothly, and she was determined to make the most of being pregnant.

“I loved being pregnant and because I knew it was our last, I cherished every moment of it," she said. “Every little kick was just magical, and I was taking selfies at every stage."

In April 2019, the family flew out to Lecce, Italy, when Daniel was invited to take part in a program which meant working at a GP surgery there for two weeks.

Katie and her son (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“We're a close-knit family and two weeks is a long time, so I'd miss Daniel and the children would miss Daddy, so we thought it was best to stay together," she said.

“I had my first headache just before we left for the airport, but I put it down to being nervous about flying with the two little ones and not knowing what to expect."

But the family's first few days in Italy went like a dream.

Katie and Mario (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“We ate so much pizza and I couldn't help but stuff my face with ice cream," Wilkinson laughed.

Being heavily pregnant and looking after two small children in a foreign country soon became hard, though.

“Pushing a double buggy around all day whilst heavily pregnant is physically hard work," she said.

“Plus, when the kids suddenly needed the toilet, I couldn't ask anyone for directions, so that became stressful. And when we were in the park they'd run around and I'd think, 'If they run off, I've got no hope in catching them up,' so I was bit stressed."

Katie and baby Mario (Collect/ PA Real Life)

When Wilkinson started having headaches, she thought they were caused by anxiety.

“The headaches started happening more or less as soon as I'd get into bed and sometimes, they'd wake me up in the middle of the night," she said.

“Then I'd be hit by this smell. It's hard to describe but it smelt metallic and would make my nose prickle. Sometimes, it would get so bad it would start to make me feel physically sick."

Katie and baby Mario ( Shelly Fullerton, Magical Moments, South Petherton/ PA Real Life)

Daniel advised her to book a doctor's appointment ready for when they returned home.

But, after blood tests and taking her blood pressure, her doctor agreed that her symptoms sounded like they were being caused by anxiety and pregnancy hormones.

“I just thought to myself, 'I'm going completely mad I'm doing this to myself,'" she said.

Katie and her daughter (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“Then I'd still get this weird smell and I thought, 'Surely my mum and dad's house and our house can't smell the same as the apartment in Italy? What is going on?'" she continued.

With the headaches refusing to relent, Daniel advised his wife to continue seeing her doctor. But no one had an explanation for her symptoms other than hormones and stress.

“I really didn't know what was wrong with me," she said. “It just got to the point where I thought, 'Right, I'll wait until my baby is born and then I can see what happens'."

Katie and Mario (Collect/ PA Real Life)

But, on June her life changed.

“It had just been a normal day being Mummy," she said.

“We'd taken the children to Seaworld in Weymouth, Dorset, and we'd had a brilliant day out. We'd come back and I'd put both the children to bed and then I went to sleep next to Daniel."

Katie and her son (Collect/ PA Real Life)

Then, in the middle of the night, she had a seizure.

“I had a seizure and I must've bitten my tongue, because when I came to there was blood everywhere and Daniel was sat up sobbing next to me," she said.

“He must've called 999 because the next thing I knew these paramedics appeared and I was just like, 'What's going on? Why is my mouth sore?'"

“I wasn't really with it and was becoming more and more scared when I was taken to hospital in the ambulance."

After a series of tests, she was told by the doctors at Musgrove Park Hospital, in Somerset, that they had discovered a large mass on her brain, which turned out to be grade three anaplastic astrocytoma.

“I just burst out crying and Daniel's face drained white – it was like all our worst fears had come true," she said.

"It was heartbreaking. I was suddenly thinking about death when I was supposed to be having a baby in one week and I needed to live."

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

After being induced, six days later Wilkinson took Mario home.

“I took Mario home from the hospital and just wanted to be the best mother I could to him," she said. “I breastfed him, because I wanted to be close to him and give him what I'd been able to give to my other two children."

But on July 9 they were separated when she was admitted to Southmead Hospital in Bristol for a 10-hour operation to have the tumor removed.

Katie Wilkinson (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“I was told I might not come out of the operation alive, or I could change physically or mentally," she said. “I didn't know when I was going into surgery, if I'd seen my kids for the last time."

“I'd written them each a letter, just so they knew how much I loved them and how much they meant to me."

“I kissed goodbye to Sofia and Hugo the night before and I remember thinking, 'Was that the last time I will ever get to kiss them? Was that it?'"

Katie and family (Shelly Fullerton, Magical Moments, South Petherton/ PA Real Life)

“Mario came with me and Daniel to the hospital and I breastfed him right up until I went in to have surgery. I wanted to do all I could for him while I still could," she added.

“Then I had to say goodbye. That moment, I felt numb, not knowing if I'd ever see my family again, not knowing if that was it and the end of my life."

Thankfully, the operation was a success and Wilkinson didn't suffer any adverse side effects, as surgeons removed 90 per cent of the mass.

During the two weeks she spent recovering in hospital, Daniel took care of their children at home with the help of the couple's friends and family.

“It was such a huge relief, yet at the same time, I knew it didn't mean I would live, " she said. “It was difficult to stay strong – but I still had a chance, and that's all I could ask for."

In a bid to contain the remaining 10 per cent of the mass, Wilkinson had to have 33 rounds of radiotherapy at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital over the course of six and a half weeks.

Katie and family (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“Honestly, I felt like I was in the Matrix," she said. “I had this contraption strapped to my head and all these lights were flashing – it was horrendous."

“The radiotherapy made me tired, drained and clumsy and it took me a while to process things."

“After a while, my hair started to fall out. I loved my hair – I'd grown it so long – but Sofia was so sweet, she said, 'Don't worry Mummy, I'll cut my Barbies' hair and then you'll look the same.'"

Katie and family (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“So then, before my hair fell out too much, I cut it all off and donated it to The Little Princess Trust – a charity that provides free real hair wigs to children and young people who have lost their hair because of cancer. I wasn't using it anymore and I knew it would benefit someone somewhere," she added.

Once the radiotherapy treatment was complete, she was told she needed 12 cycles of chemotherapy, take six tablets every day for five days, before having 23 days off and repeating the cycle.

“Because my type of chemo can be administered in tablet form it means I can take them at home," she said.

Katie and her children in Italy (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“But when Covid-19 first hit that was one of the worst times of my life. I didn't know whether to take the tablets and wreck my immune system or stop taking them and let this mass in my head continue to grow," she continued.

“We made the decision as a family to self-isolate, so I could continue to take my medication without putting myself at too much risk and, thankfully, my treatment plan is still on track."

While her future is uncertain, Wilkinson wants to concentrate on making the most of the time she has left with her children and her husband.

Katie and her children (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“Doctors don't know for sure, but after I had the surgery, I was told I've got roughly eight years to live," she said. “They can never be certain, but all they can do now is prolong my life."

“I want to make a massive imprint on my children while I still can and, should the worst happen, I want them all to know that Mummy loves them very, very much."

“In some ways lockdown has been a blessing in disguise, as I've been able to spend lots of time with them making memories that we'll cherish. We've had so much fun. We've been face painting and playing games in the garden. I'm so happy I can still spend this time with them."

Katie's children (Collect/ PA Real Life)

“For now, I'm taking each day as it comes and, even though I know my life's uncertain, I try not to think about whether I'll live or die. Instead, I try to enjoy every moment," she concluded.

“And I hope that one day, the scientists at Brain Tumour Research finally find a cure."

To find out more visit www.braintumourresearch.org