A stunned dad-of-two has been diagnosed with same aggressive brain tumour his wife has been battling for a decade in what experts describe as a ‘one in a million chance.’
Jim Murphy, 54, has spent the last 18 years going to hospital appointments with his wife Gill, 47, as she has had a total of three surgeries to have a “benign” tumours removed.
Jim has held her hand at more than 90 MRI scans over the years – most recently when her tumour grew back 11 years ago as a glioblastoma malforme (GBM), the most aggressive type of brain cancer.
But when Jim started noticing symptoms, including a tingling sensation in his arm, he put it down to a trapped nerve or a heart attack – and never imagined he had a brain tumour like his wife.
In odds that have been called “one-in-a-million” by charity Brain Tumour Research, Jim was diagnosed earlier this year with a GBM – in almost exactly the same part of the brain where Gill’s was.
The husband and wife, from Cawood, North Yorks., have both had their tumours removed – Gill’s 11 years ago, and Jim’s in a craniotomy surgery last month, for which he was awake throughout.
But Jim said the tumour “never really goes away” – meaning the couple both share a brain tumour diagnosis to this day.
Dad-of-two Jim, a buying manager for Asda in York, said: “Gill was diagnosed 18 years ago.
“Now, all this time later, I have been told that I have the same disease and we even have the same type of tumour.
“What are the chances of that? You just couldn’t make it up could you?”
“I’ve held my wife’s hand and accompanied her to every single appointment and more than 90 MRI scans. It seems extraordinary that now it’s her time to be here with me.
“The last 18 years have toughened me up and made me more resilient, and I have been so inspired by Gill’s journey.
“The fact that she is still here – after being told initially she had just a few years at most – gives me great hope that I can beat it too.”
Jim added: “When I got my diagnosis, I didn’t allow myself or my family to get emotional.
“We did all our crying – a lot of it – 18 years ago when Gill first got her diagnosis.
“I looked at it with a logical brain – I wanted to do whatever it took to increase my life expectancy.”
And last month, on May 13, Jim received surgery to remove the life-saving mass – and was awake the whole time, even snapping selfies during the surgery to send to his wife.
As he faced surgery at Hull University Hospital, Jim was given the option of an awake craniotomy.
He would be brought round for part of the operation so surgeons could monitor his motor skills as they sought to remove as much damaged tissue as possible.
Jim’s preparation included watching videos of similar ops on YouTube and creating a playlist of music to listen to in theatre.
He said: “I was awake for five hours of the operation which took place on 13 May.
“I listened to music to help drown out the noise of the surgical instruments and even sent selfies of me in theatre to my friends and family via WhatsApp.
“At first people couldn’t believe it but were chuffed to think they were involved in some way, messaging me back to say ‘OMG are you being operated on now?!’
“In a bizarre way I really enjoyed the surgery; it was like a great meeting at work where I was one of the key decision makers helping to guide the team on how far they could go.
“They kept checking on me the whole time, and nothing happened unless I was in charge of it.”
Now, Jim is on a “mission” to encourage as many people as possible to opt to have awake craniotomy surgery after a brain tumour diagnosis.
He said: “If I had been asleep during the surgery, they wouldn’t have been able to get 100 per cent of the tumour out like they did, because it could have paralysed me.
“Hopefully my experience and the images can demystify what’s involved as well as acknowledge the people who do this fantastic work.
“One thing I wasn’t expecting, and it’s something I’ll never forget, is that when it was over the whole surgical team gave me a massive round of applause.
“It was a wonderful moment.”
His wife Gill added: “I’m so proud of him. I think it’s amazing, what he did, staying awake throughout the surgery.
“I couldn’t believe he was sending us pictures.
“When he first got his diagnosis, it was a total and utter shock. I thought, oh God, it’s happening all over again.
“But I thought, if I can get through it, then Jim certainly can.
“He’s seen all that it entails, and he’s always been the one to ask questions and learn as much as he can – whereas I just park it in the back of my brain and try to get on with my life.
“He’s just been amazing, he’s been so strong,” she added.
Following Gill’s diagnosis the family set up a fundraising group called Circle of Hope and, over the years, they have raised nearly £90,000 for the national charity Brain Tumour Research.
Charity spokesman Brain Tumour Research Hugh Adams said: “Jim and Gill’s support for us has been extraordinary and our thoughts go out to them both at this very difficult time.
“It is absolutely appalling to think that they are now both fighting GBM, the most aggressive of all brain tumour types.
“It’s a one in a million chance that a couple would both have this diagnosis.
“As Jim and Gill know from their own experiences, improvements in surgical techniques and treatment options only come about because of research.
“It is vital that we continue to invest money if we are to improve outcomes and, eventually find a cure.”
The couple are now urging people to support the charity by taking part in Wear A Hat Day with Flowers which takes place on Friday 19 June.
The event is being launched by BBC TV’s Instant Gardener, Danny Clarke, who lost his sister to a glioblastoma.
Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK.
It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure.