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Tom – Humans of Avon and Somerset

Fully uniformed male police officer standing in front of grass fields

When you are diagnosed, you are suddenly thrown into a world which you know little about, and you are expected to just deal with by yourself.

Tom, Police Constable

Many of my jobs over the last six years have required a lot of physical movement. Before working for Avon and Somerset Police, I worked for a transportation service that transferred people between police stations, prisons, courts and more. I came across to Avon and Somerset in 2019 as part of the Detainee Transport Services, not too far a cry from my previous role. I became a detention officer full-time in April 2020, and it was during this period that a seemingly minor health concern developed into something life changing.   

On 3rd June 2021, I was supposed to be beginning the late shift in custody at 14:00. In the previous weeks, I began experiencing pain behind my eyes and sudden onsets of dizziness. My GP had suggested visiting the opticians, and I managed to get an appointment at 14:15. My sergeant kindly let me go – we both thought I would be straight back afterwards! During the eye tests, they started to rush through the procedures with urgency, before informing me I needed to visit an eye hospital as soon as I could to get some eye drops. I was advised not to drive myself and that I would need to take the day off work as well whilst the eye drops took effect.  

My parents drove me to the hospital, and we all expected at first to be out quickly. However, during the visit they advised I would need to go across to Bristol Royal Infirmary for a CT scan. I didn’t see the relevance, but I went along, and they had to put a cannula in my hand to put a dye in my blood for the scan. It took 19 attempts – my hands looked like a pinkish glob when it was finally successful. I had the CT scan, waited around an hour for updates, and then I was taken through to Majors, where I vocalised that I was confused and surely shouldn’t be there. The nurse asked me to listen and told me I needed to be taken to Southmead to see the neurological department, as it appeared I had swelling on the brain.  

Fully uniformed male police officer standing in front of grass fields

We got to Southmead about 21:30 the same evening after being taken in an ambulance. I couldn’t help but feel slighted by this – surely there were other people that needed this transportation more than me. After spending a couple of hours with the neurological team, at around 23:30, I was finally given an answer to all this escalation – I had a brain tumour. They wanted to operate on me that very night. You could have heard a pin drop. 

I called my partner and we both got very teary as I told her that I would be having a biopsy and a drain placed into my skull to relieve the pressure. A weird memory which will stay with me forever was being wheeled to the operating theatre at 01:00 and talking to the anaesthetist about BBC’s ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ because she had a badge from it on her lanyard. We chatted about the American series and the upcoming UK series. I said the badges were only available to winners of the UK series and she suggested I looked on Etsy for one just before they placed me under general anaesthesia.  

That was the first biopsy to remove a small portion of the tumour, as they weren’t 100% sure what type of tumour it was. It was two weeks later that I was admitted for an eight-hour operation that resulted in 95% of the tumour being removed. Before the procedure, the surgeon introduced himself to me and explained what it would involve. The way he described it was so normal, another day in the office. For them, it was another day in the office – it likened to the situations we can come across in policing, which to us are normal days. 

I didn’t fully come around from the second surgery until Friday – four days later. The tumour was confirmed to be a Neurocytoma, which is rare and not much is known about it. After spending some time in Intensive Care and having another series of MRI scans, I was able to go back home on 23rd June. I was so thankful to get home that day – it was during the heatwave and so I had endured some hot stretches in the hospital.  

In the time following both operations, I have had good days and bad days. Since being discharged, I must have MRI scans every six months to keep an eye on the tumour, which are nerve-wracking every time. The Brain Tumour Charity has helped me massively – especially the Facebook support groups. When you are diagnosed, you are suddenly thrown into a world which you know little about, and you are expected to just deal with it by yourself. I was worried about MRI results, the DVLA and the pain in my head. The support groups provide you with a place to ask all those questions and get answers from people who are going through the same thing. You can also read other people’s posts and take comfort in how you are not alone. In one of the support groups there are over 12,000 members, but so far I have only come across four other people with my type of tumour.  

The BRIAN app, created by the charity, is also fantastic – I find the daily check-ins and reminders you can set up for when you need to take medication or have appointments helpful. Honestly, I don’t think I would have coped so well with all that has happened to me if it had not been for The Brain Tumour Charity. I couldn’t have faulted the support I received from my Senior Leadership Team at the time, especially my Chief Inspector who checked in with me weekly. I received well-wishes from Superintendents, and even received one from Sarah Crew, who was acting Chief Constable at the time. I never expected to get personal well-wishes from people high up in the organisation, they were really appreciated.  

On 17th June 2023, two years since the diagnosis, my partner and I climbed Snowdon with a group to raise money for The Brain Tumour Chairty. After setting off at just before 19:00, we ended up reaching the summit at around 22:30 but sadly didn’t get to see the sunset due to the peak being in clouds. We then ended up descending the mountain in a thunderstorm, and so we were glad when we got back to the meeting point in the town of Llanberis at around 01:30 to dry off and eat a well-deserved sausage sandwich. My partner and I managed to raise £575, and the entire group managed to raise £18,724.  

I had my latest MRI scan in March of this year and was told that the tumour hasn’t grown – the best news to receive. Now I’m in the process of finalising everything with Occupational Health, but it should mean I can resume full duties in my current role as a Police Constable on the Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP) course. I’m so excited to fully immerse myself in the role again, getting back out on the streets to help the public.  

Man in black t-shirt sitting on bed in front of an MRI machine