Young rider and Shetland take on fundraising Santa dash a year after her brain tumour surgery

  • The family of a nine-year-old girl who underwent life-saving surgery for a brain tumour a year ago are celebrating the 12-month milestone with a sponsored walk with her miniature Shetland.

    On 12 December 2019, Anabelle Hill had a 12-hour craniotomy to remove the low-grade pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumour in her cerebellum that was starting to push on her brain stem.

    Today (12 December), a year to the day from her surgery, she will be walking 5km with her mum Jodie Colston, brother Alfie, dad Tom Hill and miniature Shetland Bramble on a Covid-secure “Santa dash” to raise funds for charity Brain Tumour Research.

    Anabelle’s 5cm tumour was discovered when she had a brain scan on 7 December last year and she underwent major surgery less than a week later.

    “It was such a shock to find out that Anabelle had something so serious,” said Jodi, a self-employed groom.

    “For some months, she had been complaining of eye pain, headaches and sometimes stomach pains. She saw the GP a number of times and had appointments with opticians, but no one thought it was anything sinister.

    “On more than one occasion an ophthalmologist put the fact that Anabelle couldn’t read the second line of the eye test down to anxiety about meeting new people.

    “As a mum, however, I just knew something was wrong, but didn’t contemplate that it might be a brain tumour. What eight-year-old constantly has eye pain and headaches?”

    Anabel spent several weeks in Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and returned home for five days over Christmas.

    “Anabelle was very poorly last year and Christmas felt totally surreal. This year we can’t wait to be able to celebrate properly together as a family. It will be so special just not having the horrible nightmare of Christmas last year,” added Jodi.

    “After finally being discharged, Anabelle had physiotherapy to help her get stronger. Sky, her full-size Shetland pony, was a great boost because, although she wasn’t able to ride her for six months, she was able to walk her around and this really helped her balance.”

    Anabelle has six-monthly scans and is now doing well.

    “We have been to hell and back living through the trauma of Anabelle’s treatment,” said Jodi. “My partner Louis Smart was our rock when Anabelle was in hospital, keeping me and Anabelle’s dad sane and doing all the things we didn’t have the energy for.

    “We are so lucky to still have our daughter with us and now fighting fit, although she is registered as partially sighted as she can’t read average-sized text or text on certain background colours. We know only too well that this is not the happy outcome for so many brain tumour patients.”

    Brain tumours can affect anyone, at any age, and kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer.

    Brain Tumour Research community development manager Melanie Tiley said the charity is grateful to Anabelle’s family — and Bramble — for taking part in the Santa dash.

    “The great thing about the Santa dash is that wherever you are, whoever you are with and whatever your ability, you can adapt it to suit you. Whether you do laps around your garden, run a mile or two with your family in the park or walk a 5km or 10km trail – anything goes,” she said.

    The charity funds research at dedicated centres in the UK with research into low-grade brain tumours like Anabelle’s conducted at a centre of excellence within the University of Plymouth.

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    It also campaigns for the Government and larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours to speed up new treatments for patients and ultimately to find a cure.

    The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35m to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia, and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

    To donate, visit: www.facebook.com/donate/3281421771969253/

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