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06/02/2012 / melgardener

Personal Story: Living with a brain tumour – one young girl’s brave journey

Charlotte Harrison

When Charlotte Harrison was born in 1995, she was in perfect health and was eagerly welcomed as the third child in a loving family. She progressed normally for 18 months until her mother, Jenny, noticed she was losing weight and not thriving as she should.

A check-up led to further tests and Charlotte was finally diagnosed with a brain tumour. A rare syndrome, caused by the tumour, was responsible for the weight loss.

Tiny Charlotte underwent major surgery in an attempt to reduce the bulk of the tumour but this was only minimally successful and, at aged two, she needed a shunt inserted into her brain to drain fluid which had become blocked by the tumour. When she was just three years old, Charlotte’s vision atrophied to the effect of the tumour on her optic nerve.

The following three years were an emotional journey for the whole family as Charlotte needed intensive chemotherapy treatments – many of which caused severe side effects. Seven weeks of daily radiation therapy when Charlotte was four-and-a-half years old resulted in a severe memory deficit and ongoing learning difficulties.

Jenny Harrison describes the harrowing journey of medical intervention that has taken place: “Between the ages of one-and-a-half and six years of age, Charlotte had 30 operations due to blocked shunts and a variety of issues resulting from both the tumour and the chemotherapy. She has lifelong health issues as a result of the cancer and the treatment and, although the tumour is currently inactive, she remains at risk of developing further tumours or leukaemia as a result of the radiation therapy”.

The family suffered a further setback when, two years ago, Charlotte suffered a stroke which left her completely paralysed on her left side. It is suspected that the combination of side effects from the radiation therapy and pressure from the tumour caused the stroke. It was a blow for the family as Charlotte became fully dependent and required full-time care. She was unable to attend school for nine months.

An intensive course of physiotherapy and occupational therapy saw Charlotte make progress towards some recovery and she now walks with a leg brace. Although she has not regained complete mobility and continues to experience difficulty with her left hand and arm, her ongoing occupational therapy and specialist neuro-physiotherapy exercise programme continues to be a positive influence on her abilities.

Charlotte is now back at school full-time and very much enjoys attending St Edmunds Special School in Wahroonga. She was even elected school captain for 2012.

“Through it all, Charlotte has amazed us with her ability to be cheerful, kind and thoughtful. She never complains and seems to take all of this in her stride,” says Mrs Harrison proudly.

Dance has been a love of Charlotte’s since she started at Jdance Performance Studios in Marsfield at age six. She joined her two sisters, now aged 20 and 14, who had danced there since they were four. A warm welcome was always extended to Charlotte and, for the three years leading up to her stroke in 2012, she assisted Principal Jennifer Engelmann with the pre-school dance class.

“Jdance has been such an amazing support to our family,” explains Mrs Harrison. “And we are continually grateful for the love and care extended to all of us”.

In December 2011 the family received an incredible gift from the Make A Wish Foundation. Charlotte’s wish was to see her sister dance at Disneyland as part of the Jdance Performance Studios’ trip to the USA in October this year. The Make A Wish Foundation has generously arranged for Charlotte to join the tour, together with her parents. As a happy coincidence, Charlotte will celebrate her 18th birthday while on the tour.

Mrs Harrison sums up the family’s response: “She’s very excited! We all are!”

While Charlotte’s future may be uncertain, the family will continue to focus on the joy and happiness that Charlotte continues to bring, and do whatever they can to ensure that her bright and sunny smile continues to shine.

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