Young Mum Urges Others with Brain Injury not to Give Up Hope

15th May 2023
Gillian Armstrong

“I was just a normal Mum running around after my children and leading a busy life before this, I had no idea just how lucky I was back then. My life was turned upside down in one day when I was diagnosed with a tumour on my brain.”

Gillian Armstrong was only 35 years old when she underwent an 8 hour surgical procedure to remove a 4cm mass from her brain. The diagnosis was a massive shock to both her and her family back in January 2022. Gillian had been experiencing numbness in her arms and legs for a period of time and had sought treatment from her GP to relieve the symptoms which had progressed to a heaviness in her limbs along with the numbness she was experiencing. After trying a series of treatments Gillian was referred for an MRI and an emergency scan and it was then that a mass on her brain was found that would require surgery.

This news was an enormous shock to Gillian and her family who rallied around her and her two young children to give them as much support as possible. Gillian had her surgery in March 2022 and has spent the last year trying to rebuild her life. When she awoke from her surgery she was unable to walk or speak clearly. This was obviously extremely upsetting situation for Gillian and her family but it is due to her sheer determination and will to become independent again that she has improved as much as she has over this past year.

Gillian was put in touch with the South Eastern HSC Trust’s Brain Injury Team who have worked with her daily since September 2022 to improve her physical health and speech, Gillian explained, “The team have really helped me and I have improved so much since I started working with them. When I woke up from my surgery I was shocked at just how bad my speech was, I spoke so quietly and I had lost all of my confidence, I couldn’t communicate as well as I wanted to and it was so frustrating. I never thought I would have to learn how to walk again, deal with constant tremors and have to learn how to speak again.

“I have been working on an intensive speech and language programme for the past 5 weeks with the team and it has totally changed my life, I have been taught through voice exercises how to be ‘loud and proud’ when I speak and it has built up my confidence so much. I am no longer worried about speaking to people I don’t know and I can talk on the phone again. MY attitude has totally changed and it’s down to being able to express myself and be heard clearly again.

“It’s taken hard work to build up my facial muscles which were weakened after the surgery. It was difficult and frustrating at times but doing this that has allowed me to get my speech to where it is now. I can walk with the aid of crutches at the moment but I am focused on continuing to improve my strength and balance so that eventually I can walk without an aid.

“I remember crying so much at the beginning of this journey, everything thing seemed so difficult and I felt like I would never be able to move forward. I have had to adopt a new way of thinking and stop pushing myself to go faster than I can manage, you just can’t skip ahead. I have also learnt not to dwell on the bad days. When I have one now I say to myself, ‘ It’s just a bad day, not a bad life’ and remember that the good days outweigh the bad ones.

“When I look back on where I was then to where I am now I am so proud that I have been able to move past that and found ways to adapt the things in my life so that I can manage them without the need for help. I can’t hoover standing up, so I sit to do that, the stairs take longer to climb but I know with slow steady steps I can get to the top. It may take me longer but I do get there. I can even make the beds myself now, something I could not do a few months ago.

“At the start of this I really didn’t understand what the team did or how they could help me to change my life – they are great and are so good at supporting me in the ways that I need. They take the time to listen to me and have really taken on board the things that are important for me and my family and focused on improving them first. I know everyone so well and I look forward to them visiting me at home. I am nowhere near the end of this recovery journey yet, but I will continue to work through the next steps on this road with determination, pride and with the Brain Injury team by my side.”