Trip to get new glasses saves a Horsforth mum's life as optician detects a brain tumour during routine eye test

When a busy mum of two young children experienced problems with her vision she put it down to being busy at work and needing to update her glasses prescription.

By Emma Ryan
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 4:45 pm

Within a month of visiting the optician she was having surgery to remove a brain tumour.

The optometrist had realised the issue was more serious than an out of date prescription for driving and referred Sarah Cardwell, from Horsforth, to an eye specialist at St James' Hospital before further MRI scans at Leeds General Infirmary confirmed that a craniopharyngioma type tumour was sitting on her optic nerve.

It was operated on and three days before Christmas 2018, Mrs Cardwell was allowed to go home to spend Christmas with her family. However, seven months later the cancer had returned and following a series of surgeries and a bout of meningitis her condition has stabilised with regular treatment and now she is working with the charity, Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage people to take care of eye health - which often reveals early signs of brain tumours.

Sarah Cardwell underwent several operations to treat a brain tumour on her eye.

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet historically just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this strand.

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"I kept telling myself to make an optician’s appointment but with a busy job and two young daughters, life got in the way and I kept putting it off. I finally went to Specsavers in Guiseley on November 16 2018.

"The optometrist did a series of tests and then tried to see if my sight was improved with various different strengths of corrective lenses. With each different lens she tried, there was no change. She then calmly told me that she was urgently referring me to the eye casualty at St James’s University Hospital.”

Sarah Cardwell after surgery to fix fluid leaks on the brain.

When an ophthalmologist carried out a colour-blindness test she didn't get a single answer correct and when he asked other questions about unusual symptoms she realised she had suffered sickness and dizziness that she attributed to anaemia medication and dismissed severe headaches as being tired and over-stretched with a busy work and home life.

Scans at LGI revealed the craniopharyngioma, sitting on her optic nerve.

She said: “I was utterly shocked when Mr Phillips said he wanted to operate the following morning, if at all possible. The urgency of it all was alarming.”

In June 2020 she woke up one day with tingling in her eye and knew the cancer was back. The following month she underwent a second brain surgery to treat the regrowth. Upon being discharged she suffered a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak and contracted meningitis and needed two further gruelling surgeries to fix the leak.

Sarah Cardwell on a day out with her daughters Lucy, 10 and Ellie, seven, and Milo the dog.

Now she is having annual MRI scans and her tumour remains stable. In September 2020, she and her family took part in the Brain Tumour Research Walk of Hope, raising nearly £700 for the charity and says that visit to the optician saved her life.

She said: “I put off going to the optician for ages. Now, I’m much more aware that a problem with your eyesight might be an indication of something serious. With hindsight, I wish I’d gone to Specsavers sooner. I’ve no doubt that that routine check-up saved my life.

“After my surgery, I went back to the optician with a card and flowers, to say thank you for my quick referral to hospital. Even though it was scary at the time, without my urgent appointment, my brain tumour diagnosis may have come too late and the consequences don’t bear thinking about.”

National Eye Health Awarenes week takes place from September 20 to 26 and aims to inspire and educate people on the importance of eye health and why they should go for regular sight tests.