The origins of the charity lie in one family’s own devastating experience of a brain tumour diagnosis. A heart-rending journey but one which resulted in the pioneering support work which Hammer Out delivered for ten years, before moving forward under the new identity of Brain Tumour Support.
Tina Mitchell Skinner is the charity's Founder and CEO.
This is her story:
My husband Paul loved his family, sport, his Christian faith and life. We met as students in Bristol and were together from the time we were both 21.
Working as a chartered accountant, Paul and I had many dreams to fulfil. Paul was looking forward to teaching our four-year-old son, John to play football and cricket. We talked of growing our family and one day living abroad. Normal hopes and dreams like most families.
So when Paul first started feeling unwell in February 2001 and then again on holiday in May we didn’t worry too much. Yes, Paul, then aged 35, seemed tired and “not himself” but we both put it down to work, new responsibilities, daily stresses and needing a break. Paul went for some initial tests on our return, but nothing came up and there seemed no cause for immediate concern.
It was in July, when Paul was again unwell with severe headaches, tiredness and then sickness that we realised this could be something serious. Our doctor diagnosed depression which I doubted and it was only a few days later when Paul’s condition deteriorated considerably that we called an ambulance.
I remember clearly the following Wednesday when the doctor at the hospital first told us they had found “a mass on the brain”. Neither of us had any idea of the implications.
Then Paul’s body went into complete shut down and he was rushed across town in an ambulance for an emergency operation. Paul subsequently underwent 12 hours of surgery. During his period in intensive care, our feelings of relief that Paul had survived the operation were mingled with the trepidation of still having to receive his biopsy results.
We all stayed at the hospital for several days as we waited for news. Eventually it came.
David Sandeman, Paul’s Neurosurgeon, told us that Paul’s tumour was a grade iv – high grade – and we were told that Paul’s life expectancy was between 6 and 18 months. I can honestly say that we had never felt as frightened or alone as we did then. We knew nothing about brain tumours and felt bewildered, with no idea how to move forward.
When Paul came out of hospital in August our focus was on living every day as it unfolded. Paul could remember people, but not necessarily surroundings, so there were challenges. And telling those who loved Paul was the hardest part of all. Although we could see the changes in Paul, other people couldn’t. Some tried to understand, others didn’t or couldn’t.
And Paul himself had to go through what we already had – understanding what having a tumour meant and going through the shock and sadness of this most devastating news.
Paul underwent various treatments until he couldn’t receive any more. Eighteen months after diagnosis and a very brave fight against his tumour and sustained by his faith, Paul passed away in January 2003.
Before he died Paul and I decided that no-one should have to face this traumatic journey alone and so the charity Hammer Out was born – named after Paul’s beloved football team, West Ham United.
Since Paul was diagnosed, support for families affected by a brain tumour, I am pleased to say, has improved enormously. What’s more, anyone who faces the devastating news of a tumour can now pick up the phone or send an email and now Brain Tumour Support is there to help, with a support network for patients and their families, made up largely of people who have experienced or been part of a similar journey. We are there for everyone, whatever the grade of tumour, whatever their individual need and however they need us to help.
Thanks to a dedicated team of staff and the generosity of our supporters the charity is now in its second
decade. I think Paul would be proud that we could fulfil this dream for him.