30-year-old Laura Bailey, from Prestwich, was just five years old when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour. While other children her age were enjoying their first year at primary school, Laura's tumour left her with an acquired brain injury that resulted in her missing several months of school and being individually tutored during her time in hospital.
"In the summer of 1989, I was a young child and my parents noticed that my left eye was not blinking as often as my right eye," Laura recalled.
"I had no idea that this was to be the start of my journey of life with a brain tumour."
Laura's parents took her to a doctor who thankfully referred her to the Booth Hall Children's Hospital, in Manchester. Within a few days Laura received a CT scan, which that showed a non-malignant astrocytoma (brain tumour) had developed in her brain.
Although not cancerous, the position of the tumour in the brain stem meant that it would eventually be fatal. Doctors made the difficult decision to try and remove it.
Following the operation was a three-week course of radiotherapy at The Christie Hospital which, thankfully, killed the cells the surgeon could not fully remove and saved Laura's life.
I was a scared little girl who didn't understand what was going on
"The radiotherapists allowed me to take my teddy into the machine to make the treatment seem less frightening," said Laura.
At the hospital, Laura recalls being told a story about a hedgehog who lost his spikes and had to visit 'Dr. Owl' to get better.
"The story was very good for a scared child as it normalised the medical side of what was happening to me," remembered Laura."When I was finally allowed to return home, my mum and dad slept close to me each night.
"I was very young and the tumour had a significant impact upon my balance, vision, learning and development, causing me to struggle with everyday tasks and school projects other children completed with ease.
"Although I managed to catch up academically with my fellow classmates, I found that my experiences often made me feel different to other children.
"Bullying, both physical and psychological, became a problem at high-school and I retreated into myself until I eventually had to leave. I was tutored privately at home, which also impacted upon my social development."
As time went by, other effects of Laura's brain injury revealed themselves and, at seventeen, her ability to hear began to significantly deteriorate.
Sadly, Laura's life was to get even harder.
On Laura's 21st birthday, she suffered an epileptic fit caused by her brain injury. After that day, fits became an almost daily occurrence.
"My epileptic fits are like blackouts," said Laura. "They often stop me from talking and I lose awareness of my surroundings and I become very tired. However, I've learned useful coping tactics to help me manage the episodes. For instance, I find that if I close my eyes it helps as it enables me to keep a degree of control over my speech."
In 2010, Laura completed a combined degree in 'The Advanced Study Of Early Years and Disability Studies', achieving an impressive 2:1 grade. She was also presented with the 'Liverpool University Hope Award' for the student who had made the most effort.
"It took five years to complete my degree, but I refused to give up," said Laura.
However, in 2013, Laura was diagnosed with nodular melanoma skin cancer, which tragically resulted in her needing part of her right leg removed.
Determined to take control of her life once more, Laura began volunteering as a teaching assistant at a primary school in Oldham.
"I love working with children," said Laura. "I am also a regular volunteer with the Prestwich branch of 'Incredible Edibles', which is a team of people who grow vegetables to be distributed for free to members of the public.
"I also began attending sessions at Headway Rochdale and Bury to seek support for living with the effects of a brain tumour," said Laura.
"Having built-up my confidence, I recently began giving talks in front of other brain tumour survivors. I find that young adults living with brain injury tend to be less keen to seek support when they are struggling and we definitely need to find ways of reaching out to this age bracket.
"I would love to inspire people to overcome adversity to achieve their goals and I hope my story gives hope by showing others affected that there can be life after brain injury. Having said that, my own fight and recovery continues."
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