A rider who is living with an incurable brain tumour has credited her horse for getting her through the past four years.
Kelly Ann has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy since her diagnosis with the low-grade central nervous system tumours in 2015.
She had just started work at a professional showjumping yard in Aberdeenshire when she noticed the first symptoms.
“I was feeling tired all the time,” she told H&H, adding that she thought this was because she was so much more active than in her previous job as a lorry driver.
But one night, after she had gone to bed early, Kelly Ann’s husband found her having a seizure. This was the first of a number she suffered.
“I was in hospital, having tests and scans, but at that point, I didn’t know anything was wrong,” she said. “Then one of the nurses came, looked at my chart and said ‘I see you’ve got a mass in the brain’, and I thought ‘My god, that’s cancer’.”
Kelly Ann said she was told she had two shadows the size of peas.
“But then the neurologist said they were the size of tennis balls, so I don’t know what sort of peas they’re eating!” she said.
Kelly Ann’s surgery was scheduled some weeks later, and the first thing she wanted to do when she got home was to see her Irish sport horse mare Aliyana.
“I hadn’t seen her for a couple of weeks and when I got there, she was at the back of the field,” Kelly Ann said. “I called her and she immediately lifted her head, as if to say ‘I recognise that voice’, and came galloping over.
“She went behind me and she kept sniffing that right-hand side of my head.”
Kelly Ann said Aliyana, who is sensitive to smells – “I have to put Vic under her nose for the farrier to hot-shoe her” – had been sniffing the same place before the tumour diagnosis.
“Maybe she could smell it, I don’t know,” she said. “I had a scan a couple of weeks ago, and thankfully the tumour’s stopped growing, and she was sniffing my head again afterwards.”
The surgeons could only remove about 70% of the mass, owing to their position.
“If they’d gone deeper, I would have been paralysed,” she said. “They made me aware there was a chance I wouldn’t walk or talk again but I thought ‘That can never happen, I’ve got a horse to ride’. Horses are my life and there was no way I was going to let my beautiful girl be sold; I was determined to be strong and pull through.”
Kelly Ann said Aliyana has helped her through her recovery from surgery, as well as the further treatment she needed in 2017 when a scan showed the tumour had returned.
“Doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to ride for a year, but I was back in the saddle after just seven months. I trusted Aliyana would look after me and although I was apprehensive at first, she always seems to know when I’m tired and works extra-hard for me. She even knows when I am having a good day.
“The best therapy for me is being with Aliyana.”
The tumours cannot be removed but Kelly Ann will have regular scans to ensure they do not start growing again. And although she is weak on her left side, and still suffers from fatigue, she intends to start working again, as well as riding.
“Aliyana’s my soulmate; she just gets me.” She said. “Everyone loves their horses but she’s so special, she keeps me pushing forwards.
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“I have good days and bad days, but when I’m with my horse, I forget all about my health.”
Kelly Ann also wants to raise awareness of brain tumours, which charity Brain Tumour Research said are the biggest killer of people under 40.
“You never think it will happen to you,” she said. “I didn’t; never in my wildest dreams.”
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