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The Butterfly Within

A Triathlete’s race against a brain tumour by Rachel Bown

9781910878439

She’s an unordained vicar who uses sport to reach her audience and her personality to reach out to her online parish. Rachel is a daughter/sister/partner/friend, but she’s something more than this – a triumviarate of sporting personalities that gets unleashed in that hardy multi-discipline sport, triathlon. And she’s pretty good at what she does.

When Rachel finds out she has a brain tumour it can mean only one thing – the battle to survive surgery becomes another race that has to be taken on, endured, and survived. Her brain tumour becomes Rachel’s most difficult opponent she has ever faced.

This isn’t just a story about survival, and one woman’s battle against the tumour that is growing in her brain. There’s another ‘battle’. One where the ‘evil’ is depression and the sufferer is Rachel’s mum, who is fighting her own devils in her life, alongside Rachel, and how dramatically this impacts Rachel’s journey through her own illness.

Alongside the swirling doubts that Rachel fights to keep out of her mind, there’s a desperately sad story in the background of a family rallying to help their mum cope with her own disease. So often hidden behind closed doors, Rachel refuses to pretend that her mum wasn’t facing as much of a battle as she was. Instead of dealing with a physical symptom, that ultimately could be overcome, Rachel’s journey back to health is paralleled by her mum’s battle with her own mental health illness. As if facing surgery on a brain tumour, and rebuilding her life after, wasn’t a big enough challenge, Rachel couldn’t turn to her mum for the support she desperately needed. Other family members had to cope with both women fighting their own battles. And they did.

Rachel’s is a powerful story of resilience, positivity and also a good dose of bloody-mindedness. Everything Rachel takes on in life she does with 100 per cent commitment. And so the journey to defy her tumour is exactly the same. There’s little self-pity, even though there’s some moments of sadness and confusion. Maybe more than anything Rachel’s personal journey is testament to how sport, and living a life where you purposefully go out to be the person you know you can be, meaning you strive to achieve your goals and commit yourself, means that you can bring an inner conviction to your ability to survive. And beat a physical condition that could mean the end of your life. Rachel approaches tackling her tumour as a race, and talks us through the preparation, execution and recovery of her ‘race’ against her tumour.

It’s like most races though… how many go exactly to plan? How often have you run a PB when you felt there was no way you could, or have you thought you were perfectly prepared for a spring marathon then an unexpected event in the race shattered your hopes and plan? After her initial operation, and as she is recovering, Rachel suffers an infection in her brain and finds herself much more poorly than she had thought possible, or planned.

Though at times consumed with feelings of being scared, worried and frustrated Rachel always holds on to her hope. Rachel’s body fights the secondary infection, but as a consequence of post-operation complications, Rachel is left visually impaired.

Does this mean her career as an athlete is over? Of course not; it means that Rachel has even more determination to return to health and fitness – so much that she defies her doctors in her rapid recovery. It’s not long before Rachel is competing at triathlon (and that means competing not completing, representing Team GB in the age group category) and last year she set a world record at the London Marathon, running in fancy dress. Even when we are faced with an unthinkable challenge Rachel shows that we can all be the creators of our own destiny.

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Rating: ****