Thanks to her grandma’s baking sessions, Maisie Dury (10) scooped first prize with her sunflower lemon drizzle cake in her school’s last Junior Bake Off competition. “She’d make a wonderful domestic science teacher, I’m sure!” laughs Lesley Haines (66) who’s spent hours passing on her skills to her cherished granddaughter.
Worryingly though, a future career of any kind isn’t something she dare take for granted for the little girl, known to her family as ‘Miracle Maisie’. In Summer 2007, Lesley received a phone call from daughter Vanessa, who told her Maisie, then two, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and needed an emergency operation in two days’ time. “It felt like a knife going through my heart,” recalls Lesley, who lives in St Andrews with husband John (69), a retired RAF Air Commodore.
Ever since Maisie had been born, they’d enjoyed a special bond even though Maisie then lived miles away from grandma with her family in Earlsfield, London. “I was there at Maisie's birth,” recalls Lesley, who stayed with Maisie until Vanessa came round after a traumatic labour and emergency Caesarean. “She was the second of my four granddaughters and just beautiful: a very contented baby and always very special to me.”
As a toddler though, Vanessa noticed Maisie sometimes looked a bit vacant and took her to the doctor. Epilepsy was diagnosed after she began having seizures but Vanessa’s instinct told her it was more serious and she pushed for a brain scan.
Arriving in London within a day of the call to support Vanessa, who was seven months pregnant with second daughter Anna May (now 7), Lesley was waiting in the hospital corridor as Maisie underwent a life-threatening six-hour operation to remove a tumour from an unusual position in the centre of her brain. “It was the longest day of our lives,” recalls Lesley. “I was worried the trauma would send Vanessa into labour and I would lose all three of them – Maisie, Vanessa and my unborn grandchild.” Happily that didn’t happen and when Maisie came round in intensive care, her head covered by bandages, a relieved grandma was at her side again.
“That was a magical moment. When the surgeon came round to check on her, I asked if she could remember the name of the Spanish flower I’d taught her on holiday. When she answered ‘bougainvillea’, he said, ‘I think I’ve done my job.’”
Happily, Maisie’s recovery continued and, in 2010, the family moved to Scotland to be closer to Lesley and John. “Maisie’s gorgeous but needs a lot of help; any child undergoing major brain surgery is affected. Her tumour was located where emotions are controlled so while growing up, she sometimes struggles to control her frustration.”
As an officer’s wife, Lesley was expected to help with problems among RAF families wherever they were stationed and underwent counselling training, which she’s found helpful. “My training has helped and I’ve learned how important it is to talk about things, but when it’s your own family, it’s very difficult,” she admits. Lesley focuses on having fun with Maisie – which as well as baking, includes collecting her from Brownies, choir practice and encouraging her musical talent. “She has the voice of an angel,” she adds proudly.
Some of Lesley’s most emotional moments are seeing her with husband John, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 59 and can no longer read himself. “She reads stories to him; they play games together and she helps him do up his coat buttons.” Papa Jack, as he’s known, is also useful for chatting to about the MRI brain scans he and Maisie both have to have every year. “They have a wonderful relationship. Maisie now knows she has a poorly brain and Papa Jack has a poorly brain too.”
What the future holds for either of them is uncertain and Lesley is angry at the level of funding given to brain tumour research, which attracts only one per cent of national cancer funding – even though 16,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year and less than a fifth will survive. “Though low grade, Maisie’s tumour was a very rare one and the size of a golf ball, which is big for such a little girl. We do worry about it coming back.”
Lesley’s family all raise funds to support the Brain Tumour Research charity and Lesley refuses to be bitter. “You have to be quite pragmatic. You go through the ‘why me?’ stage but then have to think ‘why not me?’. We now take everything as it comes – and each extra year is a bonus.”
More funding is desperately needed for research
Similarly, actress Sheila Hancock's grandson Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was just four.
Sheila says: “Thankfully Jack is now fit and well and living a healthy, normal life but we count our blessings every day. It’s terrible to watch a grandchild go through the diagnosis and treatment of a brain tumour and to see your own child and her child suffer. It was a long time before Jack’s tumour was diagnosed and then there was an agonising wait, after a life-threatening operation, to determine its type and the treatment necessary. Just afterwards I became aware that more brain tumour funding and research was desperately needed. It’s vital that we get behind the cause to fund more research.”
Find out more at www.braintumourresearch.org
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