In 1949, American author John Gunther wrote a book  Death Be Not Proud in which he records the true story of his teenage son’s struggle to overcome a brain tumour. The story begins when 17 year old Johnny Gunther experiences the first symptoms of the tumour shortly after he had received a clean bill of health, and ends with his death at 17. Johnny’s complaint of a stiff neck leads doctors to operate, which leads to the discovery of a tumour the size of an orange in his brain.

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At the time, medicine and science did all that was then possible to save this young man. But, it was not to be…Today, cutting edge treatments are tried on cancer sufferers and brain tumours don’t always spell a death sentence; however, the after effects of a brain tumour can sometimes be permanent, very debilitating and extremely costly in terms of time, effort and money. In this post, we will outline, briefly, some of the most common side effects that  affect brain tumour patients. Brain tumour side effects can have the most negative impact on a patient’s quality of life. The tumour can affect different parts of the brain, which control different functions. The effects of a brain tumour depends on the location, its size and how aggressiveness it is.

Personality changes

The brain controls every facet of who a person is, what he/she thinks and feels. And therefore, brain tumours can cause personality changes which include confusion, anxiety or mood swings. Personality changes may include:

  • Irritability
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Loss of inhibitions and restraints
  • Behaving in a socially/culturally unacceptable manner
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Lack of interest and motivation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to plan or organise

How does a brain tumour cause these changes?

These personality changes are caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Location of the tumour

As a brain tumour gets larger, it puts pressure on the surrounding tissue, affecting a variety of functions, processes or the part of the body that is controlled by that area of the brain. 

  • Swelling in the brain

This may be a result of the treatment the patient undergoes including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. However, personality changes that have occurred as a direct or indirect result of these treatments usually diminish as the patient recovers

How to help a patient recover from brain tumour treatment?

How to help will depend on the nature of the personality change and the nature of the relationship between the carer and the patient. Here are some of the strategies that may be helpful:

  • Find ways to plan and organise tasks
  • Break down tasks into smaller segments – this helps patients do more if they have memory problems
  • If the patient is indulging in inappropriate behaviour, don’t show embarrassment or disgust. Let them know that their behaviour is not appropriate, guide them on how to behave
  • Create a calm environment, and remove the patient from any stressful situation if he or she shows signs of aggression

Difficulties with communications

Understanding communication difficulties and learning about coping strategies can help people affected by  brain tumours, to feel more able to cope while reducing feelings of frustration at not being able to communicate. But, not everyone with a brain tumour will experience communication difficulties; these could be so mild as to not really affect  daily life. There is a range of communication difficulties that the patient may experience: 

  • Language impairment
  • Difficulties with speech
  • Problems with cognitive functions, such as:
  •  memory
  • attention span
  • social cognition

Persistent lethargy and fatigue

Tumour-related fatigue has been described as a continuing, debilitating sense of whole body weariness. Not everyone suffering or recovering from a brain tumour will experience it; those that do, will experience it at different levels – from mild to very disruptive. Fatigue as a side effect of brain tumour can:

  • Vary from person to person
  • Vary in intensity from day to day, or throughout the day
  • Can affect sleeping patterns
  • Can negatively affect how the patient feels emotionally, thus increasing stress and causing even more fatigue
  • Fatigue can profoundly affect the patient’s personal, social and working life, causing:
  • Difficulties in relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Loss or reduction in employment

The symptoms of fatigue

While a patient may not suffer from all the after effects of fatigue, the most common symptoms include:

  • Lack of energy – the patient may want to stay in bed all day
  • Over-sleeping or difficulty sleeping
  • Aching muscles
  • Feeling exhausted very easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in the things the patient usually enjoys doing
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of negativity
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression

The human brain is a marvellous and wondrous organ. Without it, we wouldn’t have succeeded as a species. It’s the centre of our nervous system, the most complex organ in our body and is responsible for everything we do and feel – every thought, every action, all our memories and the feelings we experience. The more we try and understand it, the better will we be able to function and interact with each other – making our world a happier, more harmonious and peaceful place.

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