The family of a high-flying Pendle student diagnosed with terminal brain cancer following a routine eye test say they are “beyond devastated” but “trying to remain positive” as she battles at least six incurable tumours.
Laura Nuttall (19), who achieved straight As in her A levels last summer, was just weeks into an international relations degree at King’s College University in London in October when she began to experience occasional headaches and nausea.
She put her symptoms down to Fresher’s Flu but when she applied to join the Royal Navy reserves, the eye test required for entry revealed unexplained swelling in her optic nerve. Laura was referred to Moorfields Eye Hospital, where doctors recommended further tests.
But the following day, after she was violently sick, she called mum Nicola at home in Barrowford to ask for help. Nicola (48) and her younger daughter Grace (17) raced to London and took Laura straight to A&E that night.
A 3am CT scan at Homerton Hospital in Hackney revealed the devastating news that she had two brain tumours. The following morning, a more detailed MRI scan of Laura’s brain identified several more.
After an operation to remove the largest and most life-threatening growth at Salford Royal Hospital, Laura and her family were told she had glioblastoma – the most aggressive brain cancer in adults and the type which took the life of former Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell.
Nicola said: “Laura had her whole life ahead of her. Now she is having to cope with the fact that her remaining life will be very short. As a family, we are beyond devastated. We are trying to remain positive and looking into lots of alternative treatments and therapies – anything that will buy her a bit more time.”
Laura underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy at The Christie Hospital in Manchester throughout December in an attempt to keep the remaining tumours at bay. She is due to embark on a further six-month course of intensive chemotherapy next month.
The family is also exploring whether Laura may be able to have experimental treatments such as DCVax, a type of personalised therapy made in the USA using some of an individual patient’s own immune cells.
The treatment hit the headlines last May when early findings from a clinical trial suggested it could increase overall survival from glioblastoma.
The family are speaking about Laura’s diagnosis through The Brain Tumour Charity to raise awareness of brain tumours, which kill more children and young adults in the UK than any other type of cancer.
Nicola, who owns and runs a children’s soft-play and party centre in Nelson, with her husband Mark (56) said: “Before Laura’s diagnosis, none of us knew anything about brain tumours or how little is spent on research into this disease compared with many other cancers.
“Now we know that when you’re diagnosed with glioblastoma, you’re told you’re going to die. There’s no effective treatment, as there can be with breast cancer or prostate cancer. It’s a death sentence.”
However, Nicola described Laura, who spent the summer working in the US as an intern for the Governor of Illinois, ran her first marathon last May and recently passed her advanced driving test with flying colours, as “amazingly determined”.
“The doctors didn’t think she’d be able to speak after her surgery but she proved them wrong. She’s a tough cookie.”
Less than three weeks after her surgery in November, Laura defied the sickness and fatigue caused by her radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment to travel with her family to St James’ Palace in London to receive her gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.
The family also met up with BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth – a friend of Nicola’s through their joint passion for running – for a tour of the BBC newsroom. And shortly before Christmas, Laura was awarded the A level politics and government prize at an emotional ceremony at her former school, Skipton Girls High.
Now Nicola is doing whatever she can to help Laura achieve her “bucket list” – including a trip to see Sir Paul McCartney in concert in Liverpool last month. On December 23rd – Laura’s 19th birthday – she was a guest at Everton Football Club, where she met players including Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Nicola said: “I’m trying anything I can think of to help keep Laura feeling positive. We’re doing as much as we can to make the best possible memories.”
Nicola plans to run the London Marathon to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity following the support she and her family have received. The family has launched their own appeal to raise funds towards any non-standard treatments which may offer Laura a greater chance of survival. Their local community has rallied round with a #doingitforlaura campaign launched by Trawden Athletic Club, which has already raised more than £10,000 for the family.
Sarah Lindsell, chief executive of The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Laura and her family have had their world shattered in the cruellest way. We are profoundly grateful to them for their courage in speaking about their experience at such a traumatic time, which shows just how determined they are to help us change things for everyone affected by this awful disease.
“No-one diagnosed with a brain tumour at any age should have to live without hope of a cure. We are doing everything in our power to spare families from this kind of heartbreak, through our investment in research and our efforts to raise awareness of the devastation caused by brain tumours.”
To find out more about the Brain Tumour Charity log on to www.thebraintumourcharity.org or to donate to the family appeal visit https://www.gofundme.com/ngdq37-doing-it-for-laura