New mother, 33, dies of stage-four brain cancer just 6 months after diagnosis
A new mother died of brain cancer just months after NHS doctors claimed her ‘baby brain’ may have been down to herpes.
Anneka Johnstone, 33, died in November 2019 after being diagnosed with stage-four glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive types of the disease.
She originally assumed her dizziness — a tell-tale symptom of the deadly tumour — was caused by ‘baby brain’ after giving birth to daughter Sienna at the end of 2018, her heartbroken husband Alan revealed.
But Mrs Johnstone was rushed to hospital in June 2019 after she began dragging her feet and fell while holding Sienna.
Anneka Johnstone (pictured with daughter Sienna and husband Alan), 33, died on November 18, 2019, after she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma – an aggressive type of cancer that occurs in the brain or spinal cord
Mrs Johnstone was rushed to hospital in June 2019 after she fell while holding Sienna
Mr Johnstone, 38, said his wife put her dizziness down to ‘baby brain’, as their daughter Sienna had been born six months before
She was told by doctors that she had herpes and given antibiotics.
But just a week later, following an MRI scan and biopsy, Mrs Johnstone was dealt the devastating news that she had glioblastoma – a fast-growing and aggressive brain tumour. She died just six months later.
Glioblastoma is a grade 4 astrocytoma – the most common type of brain tumour.
There are four grades of astrocytoma and glioblastomas are the fastest growing tumours, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
They often come back after treatment and can spread to other parts of the brain and sometimes the spinal cord.
Mr Johnstone, a medical technician, said of his wife’s diagnosis: ‘It was sickening knowing the person she was and that there was nothing I could do.
‘I could see the fear in her eyes, she was terrified – like anyone would be at 33 years old.
‘Anneka was dealing with it well, but the family was not, we knew there was nothing we could do.’
The 38-year-old, from Dumfries, added: ‘It hit us all like a tonne of bricks, Anneka wanted to see her daughter grow up.
‘After being told the news, we drove back to tell the family. The first person Anneka saw when she walked through the door was Sienna – she collapsed.
‘All she wanted was to be a mum, be there for Sienna’s 18th and watch her get married.’
The pair met while she was 17 and he was 18, while he was on leave from the military. Mr Johnstone said it was ‘love at first sight’.
They got married in 2015 and later had Sienna on October 13, 2018.
After being diagnosed, Mrs Johnstone’s health started to deteriorate, and she spent lots of her last few months in hospital.
The former dietitian was moved to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and stayed in the palliative care unit.
Following an MRI scan and biopsy, Mrs Johnstone was dealt the devastating news that she had glioblastoma – a fast-growing and aggressive brain tumour. She died just six months later.
Mr and Mrs Johnstone met while he was 18 and she was 17, while he was on leave from the military, and said it was ‘love at first sight’
After being diagnosed, Mrs Johnstone’s health started to deteriorate, and she spent lots of her last few months in hospital
Mr and Mrs Johnstone got married in 2015 and later had Sienna on October 13, 2018
Mr Johnstone said the family had a rota of who would visit his wife to ensure someone was with her for 24 hours of the day.
But he added: ‘You could spend 24 hours with her but only get 30 seconds of the real Anneka.’
This year, Mr Johnstone will be running the London Marathon in memory of his wife and to raise money for The Brain Tumour Organisation.
So far he has raised £55k for the charity after walking 215 miles across Scotland in a week.
Mr Johnstone said: ‘I am doing this for the next person who is diagnosed.
‘What would help is a change in government funding and a change in how they invest in the brain tumour charities. Not enough money is being invested into it.
‘Hopefully I will get to the end without many tears, raise as much money as possible and share Anneka’s story.
‘I will never forget the stamp she put on the world and hope there is loads of Annie in Sienna as she grows.’
WHAT IS A GLIOBLASTOMA AND JUST HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Glioblastoma is considered the most aggressive tumor that can form in the brain.
Patients have a 10 percent chance of surviving five years after their diagnosis, according to figures. The average lifespan is between 14 and 16 months.
In the UK, more than 3,000 people will be diagnosed with glioblastoma each year. There are 13,000 new cases every year in the US.
It is most commonly found in men aged 50 to 60, and there is no link between developing glioblastoma and having a previous history with other cancers.
WHAT IS THE TUMOR MADE OF?
The tumor is made up of a mass of cells growing quickly in the brain, and in most cases patients have no family history of the disease.
It won’t spread to other organs, however, once it is diagnosed, it is nearly impossible to target, surgeons claim.
Unlike other types of brain cancer which are more specifically located, glioblastoma can occur in any part of the brain.
WHAT TREATMENT IS AVAILABLE?
Because the tumor likely already spread deep into the brain by the time it is diagnosed, the cancerous tissue is incredibly difficult to remove.
Surgeon will only ever remove the tumor, or part of the tumor, if it won’t do any damage to the surrounding brain tissue.
Dr Babcar Cisse, a neurosurgeon at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, told Daily Mail Online in July 2017: ‘By the time a glioblastoma is diagnosed, microfibers can spread to the rest of the brain which an MRI would not spot.
‘So even if the main tumor is removed and the patient receives radiation and chemotherapy, it will come back.’
GRADING A GLIOBLASTOMA
Brain tumors are graded from between one to four, depending on how fast they grow and how aggressive they are.
Malignant tumors are either given a high-grade three or four, while benign ones are given a lower grade one or two.
Glioblastoma is often referred to as a grade four astrocytoma – another form of brain tumor, says the AANS.
Patients typically complain of symptoms such as confused vision, trouble with memory, dizziness and headaches.
The symptoms are somewhat nonspecific, and vary from person to person, and may not persist.
The disease is therefore impossible to diagnose based on symptoms alone.