A daughter who cared for her mum after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour is taking on a sponsored skydive to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity to help fund vital research to find a cure for the disease.
Robyn Towns, 22, from Arbroath, lost her mum Dorothy in December last year after she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour in August 2017. This is one of the most aggressive types of brain tumour and typically comes with a short prognosis of just 12-18 months on average.
Dorothy’s tumour had significantly progressed by the time it was diagnosed and the family were told that they may only have a couple of weeks left together. Amazingly, Dorothy lived for another four years and four months with her husband Derek, Robyn and their much-loved dog, Jet.
During that time, Robyn cared for her mum as she contended with the impact of the tumour right from day one. This was alongside Robyn’s commitments during her final year at secondary school and her part-time job at a soft play centre.
Robyn took on various household responsibilities including cooking meals and cleaning the family home. Derek helped when he could around his own full-time work in the knowledge that he would have to reduce his hours in the future when his wife’s needs increased. It was during this time that Dorothy’s dad passed away so the family were dealing with their own grief at this loss too.
When that time came, Robyn and Derek did all that they could alongside Dorothy’s sister, her mother-in-law and three of her closest friends who would come by every day and do all that they could. The family didn’t have any formalised help at home.
Robyn said: “I was always there for my mum – but that really increased as we got nearer to the end of Mum’s life and she needed even more help. I would shower and dress her every day as well as ensure all of her basic needs were taken care of. Mum’s friends were absolute lifesavers and become a huge part of our lives and have remained that way – we’re so grateful to them for all they have done for us.”
Robyn is sharing her story during Carers Week, which is a nationwide initiative to ensure people caring for others feel visible, valued and supported.
It was on an otherwise typical day in August 2017 that Dorothy first began showing symptoms of the tumour as she suddenly couldn’t stand up on her own, had memory loss and struggled to communicate. A family friend who was with her contacted the GP and then an ambulance. An emergency MRI found the tumour that day.
Dorothy had treatment including several long operations followed by extensive rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She would sometimes be so weak that she was unable to get out of bed alongside reduced appetite and upsetting hair loss.
Robyn said: “The day Mum was diagnosed is a day I will never forget as it changed my family life forever. Mum had absolutely no symptoms whatsoever. I left for school one morning and she was absolutely fine – by lunchtime everything had dramatically changed.
“We were in absolute disbelief when Mum was diagnosed just hours after her first symptom. Getting my head around what we had been told when Mum hadn’t even been unwell at all was really difficult. We were overwhelmed with upset, shock and anger about why this happened to my family.
“We all never knew what the next day would bring – Mum kept outdoing all the time scales we were given over and over again. We are forever grateful for that time. Some days, Mum would be so bright which was such a joy and this constant state of uncertainty just became our new way of life.”
Dorothy’s condition rapidly deteriorated in what ended up being the final stages of her life. She went into a hospice, Roxburgh House in Dundee, for a temporary period but she sadly never went home after passing away peacefully on 17 December 2021.
Robyn added: “Mum going into a hospice, even for what was supposed to be a short rest, was one of the most difficult things that we have ever had to decide on in our lives. But we needed Mum to be settled and comfortable and we know that she was there. On Mum’s last days, she slept and didn’t really open her eyes but she knew those she loved were close to her in that room. Whilst that’s all that matters, it doesn’t remove the heartbreak we all felt.
“Nobody can ever be prepared for the feelings and emotions you go through when you lose someone you love. I have never experienced anything like it and I don’t think those feelings will ever go away.
“Now Mum has gone, I am adapting to what life looks like without that responsibility. That is what I am struggling with the most – my day-to-day life has changed again. I used to spend every morning before work ensuring Mum was ready for the day ahead but now I don’t. It’s a big adjustment and has left a huge hole in my regular routine. It’s definitely the little things which you struggle with or hit you harder when you lose someone.
Robyn found out about The Brain Tumour Charity online following Dorothy’s initial diagnosis and the family searched online for information. Robyn said that Dorothy kept up to date with the organisation’s communications.
Robyn is also preparing to do the skydive to raise money for the organisation in July in the hope of helping to find a cure for the disease. She set out to raise £1,000 but she smashed that target within 48 hours of launching the fundraiser online with more than £3,000 already generously donated.
Robyn added: “I remember Mum often reading the real-life stories shared on The Brain Tumour Charity’s social media channels which is why I have been keen to share my own when the time was right as I know how helpful they were for Mum. I hope my story will help others in a similar way.
“We have also been blown away by the huge levels of support we have received for the skydive and we’re so incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped us along the way so far. This is just one way in which we can celebrate Mum’s life – I never knew she had so much fight in her but she proved everyone around her wrong. Her smiley, cheeky and bubbly personality stayed with her along the way – she was and always will be my hero.”
The Brain Tumour Charity is the UK’s largest dedicated brain tumour charity – funding world-class research, providing trusted support and information for anyone affected, and raising awareness of the signs and symptoms.
33 people every day are diagnosed with a brain tumour of which there are more than 130 types. Although it is a relatively rare condition, it remains the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 years old.
Alex Lochrane, Chief Executive at The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Robyn and her family have been through an incredibly difficult ordeal right from the moment when Dorothy was first diagnosed which no doubt was a huge shock for them. Our hearts go out to the family and our grateful thanks go to Robyn for supporting us by taking on the skydive.
“It’s heart-breaking that, for so many families like Robyn’s, progress just isn’t happening fast enough and there are still such limited treatment options for glioblastomas.
“There is a huge and urgent need for increased funding into more research, and The Brain Tumour Charity won’t stop until we find a cure for this terrible disease. Although there is still a long way to go, our researchers are making progress all the time to help find new and more effective treatment options to help improve survival rates and quality of life for those diagnosed. Having recently launched our new research strategy, Accelerating a Cure, we’re aiming to invest another £40 million in pioneering research by 2027 to do just that.
“Brain tumours are incredibly unforgiving and they wreak havoc on people’s lives all too often. That is why The Brain Tumour Charity also provides specialist support for anyone who needs it following a diagnosis. It’s so important for everyone affected by the disease to know that they are not alone – we’re here for you on our Support & Info Line on 0808 800 0004 or via our website – https://www.thebraintumourcharity.org/.”
Find out more about Accelerating a Cure here: https://www.thebraintumourcharity.org/about-us/our-research-strategy/
You can support Robyn’s fundraising here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/sponsored-skydive-in-memory-of-dorothy-towns