Dominique Nicholson suffered constant headaches during her first few weeks of motherhood but put the pain down to stress and hormones. It was only after three visits to her GP, she was told the truth about her condition - and diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.
Looking at Dominique pushing her giggling little girls on the swings, she looks like any other young mum enjoying a family outing to the park.
But rewind a year, she was frightened she wouldn’t live to see her children grow up when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour just three weeks after Erin was born.
“Looking back, it seems so surreal, almost like a dream,” said Dominique.
“One minute we’d welcomed Erin into the world and were enjoying being a family of four.
“The next, I was told I had a brain tumour. I just couldn’t take it. How could this thing have been growing in my head?
“We were meant to be enjoying those precious first weeks with Erin and Freya was so excited about being a big sister. Instead, I’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
“What if I didn’t live to see Erin and Freya grow up? What if I was a different person after I’d had surgery?”
Surgeons removed 99% of the tumour and biopsy tests revealed it was a grade 2 (non-cancerous) meningioma – a slow-growing tumour doctors think Dominque had for years and that pregnancy hormones probably accelerated its growth.
Now, 13 months after surgery, Dominique is recovering well. Her ordeal started after she had Erin on June 9 last year and she reflected on her experience.
“I was exhausted but I thought it was because I had a newborn, I was breastfeeding and had Freya, too. When I look back at photos of Erin’s first few weeks, I am always lying down on the couch with her – after Freya, I was up and about in days.
“I had a constant headache that I couldn’t shift and it got progressively worse. If I bent over to lift Erin up or looked down, the pain intensified and I felt pressure behind my right eye, and had to lie down.”
Dominique had suffered a few headaches while she was pregnant but dismissed them. She revealed, “They got worse as my due date came closer but nothing severe.”
“I went to the GP three times. They said they couldn’t give me anything as I was breastfeeding. I was put on a waiting list for a scan.”
“On July 5 last year, my head was throbbing and I was in agony,” Dominique said. “I was supposed to pick Freya up from pre-school but I knew I needed to get to hospital.
“I texted my sister-in-law and she met me to get Freya, and Dave drove me to A & E. We had Erin with us and I breastfed her while we waited as the pain in my head got worse and worse.”
After at CT scan at the hospital, I couldn’t believe the doctor’s words when we were told it was a brain tumour.
She saw her shock reflected in Dave’s eyes. “At first we just sat there in silence, too stunned to say anything to each other,” she said. “Then we broke down, crying and hugging.”
Dominique was admitted to hospital that night and had to spend time away from her family, including her newborn daughter.
“Dave took Erin home and it was such a wrench to be apart from my newborn, especially as I was breastfeeding. And was only the second time we’d ever spent a night apart from Freya.”
Two days later, she was transferred to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham where she underwent nearly seven hours of surgery.
Poignantly, Dominique wrote letters for Dave and the girls in case she didn’t make it through the operation.
“I told Dave how much I love him and what I’d like him to do for the girls if I wasn’t there. I said he must have a christening for Erin when she was 12 weeks old like we’d done for Freya.
“And I asked him to put my photos up around the house. I wrote to the girls that I was sorry Mummy wasn’t here but that I’d always love them and Daddy would look after them.
“Every ounce of me wanted to be there for the girls – losing their mum just couldn’t be an option.”
After surgery, Dominique came round in the recovery room.
“It’s a blur but I remember being overwhelmed with relief I’d made it through my operation.”
Surgeons managed to remove 99% of the 4cm tumour except for a tiny bit attached to a blood vessel.
“I was shocked when I saw the scar running from the middle of my forehead to my ear. When Dave brought the girls in, I just held them close and thanked God they still had their mummy.”
Two days after surgery, Dominique was back at home with her family. She said, “I felt wiped out and couldn’t drive for a year. But I was determined to be up and about as soon as possible.”
“I’ve always loved making memories and now it’s more important to me than ever – you never know when everything may be snatched away from you. I wanted us to make as many memories with Erin as we had with Freya when she was a newborn.”
“Don’t put off doing things you’ve always wanted to do – do them now and live life to the full,” she said. “I want to give something back and chose to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity because it not only funds research but also offers support to people living with a brain tumour – as 91% of people diagnosed say it has affected their mental health.”
Every day in March, Dominique decided to walk, run or jog around her local reservoir, inviting friends and family to join her, and raising more than £1,500.
She is also backing The Brain Tumour Charity’s Great Minds T-shirt campaign to raise awareness and funds. You can buy a t-shirt here.
WORDS: CAROL DYCE