Lisa talks about her journey from staff member to brain surgery patient and back again | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
 In Inspiring Stories, Lifehouse News, Patient Stories

Lisa is a molecular biologist and mother of two young children who was working as a clinical trials co-ordinator at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse when she woke up in the night with leg tremors. A CT scan revealed a benign brain tumour and she went from being a staff member to being one of the first patients to benefit from Lifehouse’s new brain surgery services. Her surgeon was Dr Brindha Shivalingam (pictured).


My husband and I met 15 years ago while travelling in Europe and then lived in London for nearly five years before returning home to Sydney to get married. We have two beautiful young children who amaze us every day and make us laugh and smile. As a family we love travelling and experiencing new places, cultures and sights, and just spending time together, often at the park or walking our family dog, building Lego, drawing, and cooking (I love baking!).

I have an Honours degree in Biotechnology and worked for over 12 years in cancer research in the lab both at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and also at the Institute of Cancer Research in London in cancer therapeutic development. In April last year I made a change in career track to work at Lifehouse in Clinical Trials which had always been an interest of mine and so I was thrilled to get this position! I love meeting the patients and their families who all have their own amazing story, and are always so friendly and willing to help even in the face of their own adversity and treatment side effects.

I coordinate a Collaborative Prostate Cancer Biomarker study across nine hospitals in NSW and VIC, where we meet with patients undergoing prostate cancer treatment and collect blood samples and medical information. The research aims to predict patients’ therapeutic response based on plasma DNA biomarkers, with the hope to in the future personalize prostate cancer treatment to the patient. I also coordinate several prostate cancer clinical trials where we work with patients, their medical oncologists, nurses, and the sponsor pharmaceutical companies trialling new cancer drugs to test their safety and efficacy.

My first indication something was wrong happened in late March when I woke in the middle of the night and thought my right leg was cramping, but it started to shake uncontrollably and I could feel electrical impulses down the back of my leg. It probably lasted about 40 seconds, and I went into shock mode feeling faint and panicked. Having never experienced anything like this before and being otherwise healthy my GP thought it may have been a pinched nerve. Exactly two weeks later again during the night I had another leg tremor and so went back to my GP who decided to send me for CT scans to rule everything out.

I had the CT scan the next morning, the Wednesday before Easter and learnt that afternoon that they had found what they believed to be a benign meningioma brain tumour in my left frontal lobe. My GP managed to get me into an MRI scan the next morning for confirmation and a colleague arranged for me to see a neurosurgeon here at Lifehouse the next day. So it all happened very quickly that my husband and I met Dr Brindha Shivalingam here at Lifehouse and she talked us through all the scan images and the brain surgery I would require to remove the tumour which was pushing on my motor cortex and thus affecting my right leg.

It is quite surreal to be presented with tumour scans and the knowledge that you have to have brain surgery. I definitely had my moments of tears and absolute sheer panic and worry, mainly thinking of my family and two young children. Coming back to work, walking into my workplace for the first time since diagnosis, knowing in three weeks’ time I was going to be here as a patient having brain surgery, was quite confronting and shook me up, as was telling family, friends and colleagues though the support we received was absolutely amazing. The generosity of people is incredible and we are so appreciative.

I definitely expected to have a larger scar and more hair to be shaved. It was also extremely surprising to be told that the brain surgery patients were usually very alert and mobile a day after surgery. This was definitely the case as, even two hours after surgery, I was talking with the ICU staff, albeit a bit pale and nauseous from the anaesthetic. Just 24hrs post-surgery, I was eating and walking on my own and even passed the stair test and walked myself up to the recovery ward on Level Eight after discharge from ICU!

I am currently on a six-week rest and recovery period and hope to then return to work as a Clinical Trials staff member, not a patient, and be back to my usual busy mum schedule! In the meantime, I am enjoying cuddles with my children and being at home with my family.

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