Marina A

When I was a child, I loved reading bed time stories with my mother. My mother is absolutely amazing; she hadn’t been to university and wasn’t greatly educated but she is incredibly intuitive and has much sense. One night, when I was four and a half years old, I couldn’t see the pictures in my book and had to bring the book right up to my face. My mum thought that was strange as I didn’t usually do that. That’s when my parents made a few phone calls and we managed to come to England to get my sight checked out. They discovered that I had a brain tumour which was the most aggressive type in childhood – a medulloblastoma.

I had the tumour removed which was followed by a lot of radiotherapy and chemotherapy to make sure it wouldn’t return. As I was so young, I cannot remember much about the recovery but I would say that I feel as though I beat the odds. From having such an aggressive tumour at such age, I went on to have a relatively normal childhood despite my health being constantly under observation.

At eighteen years old, I went to university. I always had a passion for History/Archaeology but I was also interested in hotel management. In the end, I chose to study Hotel Management and Hotel Catering for my degree at Cardiff University. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when I graduated, I went for my first interview at the Cumberland Hotel and got the job! I was there for about a year or two but an offer came up at the Hilton hotel in the Hyde Park area which I couldn’t refuse.

I enjoyed my job at the Hilton very much but after a while, I found that it took away my social life. I didn’t have the weekends off, I worked the holidays and I was lumbered with the ‘graveyard’ shifts that went from 11pm to 10am the next day. I decided that it was time for a change so I enrolled in a cake decorating course in 2003. It was odd because a few days later, I found my old school books where I had written my goals for the future in a ‘careers advice’ lesson. I found that wanting to get involved in cake decorating was on that list!

I was never the type of person to get headaches and migraines. I got stressed, yes, but never got headaches or migraines. However I started getting them and so I took it as an indication that something may be wrong. I went to get checked at my doctors and that’s when they told me that I had a tumour, again. I would bet my last pound that the second tumour was a result of the radiotherapy and chemotherapy used to eradicate the first. However I would say I was lucky because it grew at a snail’s pace. In 2005, the doctors told me they would look into having the tumour out in the next two years so in 2007 (I was 27), it was time for another operation.

I wasn’t scared. I had so many operations by then that I felt like a pro. I was more worried for my family and friends; I didn’t want them to stress. In the end, the operation was a success. All in all, I was only in hospital for a few days – I went in on the Sunday, operated on the Monday and I was out by Friday!

The main symptom from the tumour was memory loss. Before that, I had excellent memory and could recall many names and faces. I spoke four languages which alone is a merit to my memory! However after the tumour, I would often have to admit to individuals that I couldn’t remember their names and I resented that. My self-esteem also suffered slightly. I had stitches in my head and so, I felt very self-conscious when I went out. However I am grateful that that those were my main symptoms because I’m aware that others suffer from epilepsy and panic attacks as their side effects, so I count myself lucky.

Afterwards, I focused on jobs again. I had an offer coming in from Hilton in Holland Park, asking me to be a PA to their manager director, but I turned it down. It would have been too stressful. I kept on with my cake decorating, however, as I found it to be the most satisfying activity for me to do.

Last September, I came to a FAABI drinks event at Attend. I’m glad I came because I got to meet some wonderful people. One of whom was Kieran’s partner, Paula, who I got speaking about my cake decorating to. The idea of me running a cake decorating course at Attend came up and so in the next few days, Anthony had gotten in touch with me and we met to discuss lesson plans.

On 10th January 2013, I was running a six-week long FAABI course on cake-decorating at Attend for the clients here. It was absolutely brilliant. Kieran rang me to see what tools I needed and whenever I’d come in, the room would be set out with all the equipment – mats, rolling pins, cakes to decorate (all of which they had bought just for me!). I was so touched. As our theme was valentine’s day, I taught clients how to make little hearts, how to pipe icing, write letters and showed them how to make their cake look like presents with bows.

The course was a success. I got given a thank-you card at the end of it which had some very lovely messages about the course, and Eric had given me flowers!

This wasn’t my only FAABI event. I had previously gone to the Law for Life course in November 2012 which was also six-weeks long. That was led by a couple of lawyers who taught us about the nature of the law, the rights we are entitled to, addressing legal issues and so on. That was fantastic. I learnt so much there and couldn’t thank FAABI enough for what they had arranged.

The staff at Attend are so special. They’re positive and knowledgeable and willing to help. I would definitely recommend others to join in with FAABI and go to their events. They are really fantastic. Furthermore, you get to meet other individuals who just ‘get’ you. In my life, people hear my story but without much experience on mental disorders, they don’t understand you so much. But at FAABI, they do. You talk to people about your background, your tumour and they know exactly how you feel and what you mean.