Karen Yardley was almost 50 in 2015 when she started experiencing health issues. “I had insomnia, jumpy legs syndrome, migraines, fatigue, mood swings and night disturbances,” she told the Daily Mirror. While several doctors gave her a menopause diagnosis, saying that she had just reached that age, a second opinion determined that what were thought to be menopause symptoms were actually being caused by a brain tumor. The potentially deadly cancer was removed, but it was a harrowing journey for Yardley to get there.
Karen had been experiencing symptoms for quite some time, including a heaviness in her extremities that caused her difficulty in just walking. Even though her symptoms continued to get worse, multiple doctors told her that she was just experiencing menopause symptoms. According to cancer.net, symptoms of menopause can include fatigue, sleeping problems or insomnia, and osteoporosis. Karen was eventually given hormone replacement therapy and put on antidepressants.
However, as the symptoms continued, she knew that something wasn’t right. While she never suspected a brain tumor, she knew that this was more than just menopause. “My symptoms got worse and worse,” she told the Daily Mirror, “it felt like no one was listening to me—I felt unheard and lonely. I was in a terrible state and literally crawled into the surgery on my hands and knees. ‘I’m begging you,’ I pleaded, ‘You have to do something. I think I’m dying.'” Finally, Karen was referred for an MRI, where doctors immediately found a meningioma, which is a type of brain tumor that develops in the meninges, according to thebraintumourcharity.org. The tumour was the size of a golf ball and was pushing on Karen’s right optic nerve.
This is only one of the more recent cases of cancer being misdiagnosed in an older woman as menopause. On May 1st, 2007, Julia Jackson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a condition which her doctor had said was early menopause. “I felt like a hypochondriac,” Julia told the Telegraph, “I remember apologizing to the doctor and saying: ‘I’m sorry, you’re seeing too much of me’. And her saying: ‘Don’t worry, we all have periods like this’.” However, she had failed to mention that she was also experiencing bloating, which is a telltale sign of ovarian cancer. According to Sean Kehoe, professor of gynecological cancer at Birmingham University, ovarian cancer is so rare that doctors often misdiagnose it. He told the Telegraph “An average GP who has worked for over 40 years may only see three or four women with ovarian cancer.”
Cheryl Byron of Wales also had a similar experience, where she claimed she could not get rid of the taste or smell of ginger in her mouth and nose. However, doctors diagnosed this as a symptom of menopause known as burning mouth syndrome. According to the American Dental Association, burning mouth syndrome “can affect men and women, but it is especially common in women during or after menopause.” However, after she collapsed in her home, Cheryl was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. While doctors were able to remove part of the brain tumor, part of it remained, and Cheryl had to undergo chemotherapy.
Doctors were able to remove Karen Yardley’s brain tumor, but it came at the cost of leaving Karen with a permanent weakness in her legs. She is also suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. “I can’t walk very far and have to use a wheelchair as I get so tired,” Karen told the Daily Mirror, “I can’t do everyday things we all take for granted like doing up buttons or putting the kettle on.” Karen has been working with the Brain Tumour Charity in order to raise awareness about the dangers of brain tumors and to encourage women to get themselves checked if they think they are experiencing symptoms. “Brain tumors make whole families fall apart,” She told the Daily Mirror, “If I can help save just one other person our nightmare, it’ll be worth it.”
Karen was lucky in that her meningioma was determined to be non-cancerous. Despite everything she has been through with her brain tumor, she is constantly looking forward and working to bring awareness to others. She told the Daily Mirror, “I’ve got a second chance. It makes you look at your priorities and realize that all that’s really important is your family.” Karen took part in the Brain Tumour Charity’s Warwick Twilight Walk, being pushed in her wheelchair, but crossing the finish line on her own. Sarah Lindsell, the chief executive of the charity, told the Daily Mirror, “I have had the pleasure of meeting Karen and was inspired by her courage and passion to bring something positive out of her ordeal by helping us raise awareness.”
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