Sunday, 19 October 2014

Prize Giving

I was invited on two occasions as Guest of Honour by my Principle from my old grammar school, Hunterhouse College, to give a motivational speech to the girls on their Junior and Senior Prize Giving, along with their parents/guardian, teachers and the Board of Governors. My speech was about my journey, fundraising and not giving up on your goals.

My Mum recorded my speech from the Junior Prize Giving and I thought it would be nice to share with you on my blog.

Danielle X

"I would like to thank Mr. Gibson, for inviting me to your Junior Prize Giving this afternoon. It was a great surprise and honour to be asked to speak at this special event.  I have given speeches on different occasions before, but I have to say that I feel very privileged to be given this opportunity to share my experience of school life with you all today, so here it goes.

Good afternoon Mr. Gibson, board of governors, teachers, students, parents and guardians, my name is Danielle McGriskin, and I was a pupil at Hunterhouse College, only one year ago, so I remember it very well.

It wasn't a straight forward transfer from Primary School to Hunter House College the school of my choice.  I didn't receive the 11+ grade to be accepted, and as you can imagine this was a huge disappointment.  So I began secondary school believing that if I worked hard and revised really well for the entrance exam, I could re-apply to Hunterhouse for year 9.  For me Hunterhouse wasn't just about the great academic achievements, it wasn't the school that any of my primary school friends had chosen, but I knew when I visited the school on open day that it was about the opportunities, support and the friends that I would make. I wasn't a follower and decided to go with my own gut feeling, so I was delighted when I got accepted and began Hunterhouse College in year nine.

I remember my first day like it was yesterday, the sweeping driveway with its towering trees on either side, and the welcoming school sign above the entrance door.  I was extremely nervous especially as I didn't know anybody, yet I was so excited to be given this opportunity to learn in a welcoming and homely environment.  As my first few days went on, I made a few friends, began to know my teachers and tried not to get lost.

After a great year in year 9, I began to feel unwell at the end of the summer holidays, my health continued to get worse throughout year 10.  I had many symptoms such as, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, pain around my eyes, visual disturbances and tiredness. I tried not to let my symptoms get in the way of my school and social life, and I tried to hide them, but they gradually got worse and I found it harder to carry on. Despite visiting my GP on numerous occasions as well as a Neurologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats problems to do with the brain, they said that I was feeling this way because I’m a teenager, that it was just stress related, and probably migraines too.

As soon as stress was mentioned my mother like any other mum encouraged me to take up more exercise. When the announcement at school assembly for cross country came up, I decided to join. My symptoms kept getting worse but I still ran with a thumping headache, and Mrs McClenaghan was always so encouraging as I was usually the last one back to school. Despite this I really enjoyed running and I hope I can take it up again. In my Spanish classes I was frustrated at not being able to remember the different phrases and words, especially when tests and exams came up. Once in my English class we were put into groups, and we were each given lines to learn from a book that we were reading, I was given the shortest amount of lines as I joked with the girls that my memory was bad, not realising that it was. Sometimes I would have repeated myself, or held onto the banister as I walked down the stairs as my balance wasn't great.  I still carried on going to school, trying to not let my symptoms beat me as I used up all my energy to smile and carry on.  There were moments when I got into the car and collapsed with exhaustion as the pain was horrendous.

After a year of feeling unwell I finally had a diagnosis. It was on the last day of junior school, my dad bought me to the optician who diagnosed me with papilldema, swelling of the optic discs. I was then referred to a neuro-opthalmologist and had an MRI scan of my brain, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour on top of my brain stem and hydrocephalus, water on the brain. I call my brain tumour, Annie the astrocytoma, and hydrocephalus, Heidi hydrocephalus. I thought if they are going to be around for a while or forever, I might as well give them a better name which are much easier to pronounce.

I was frightened when I was told I would be having emergency brain surgery. I never liked scary movies or hospital programmes, but here I was without a choice going into surgery to correct the fluid on my brain.  I won’t go into the details of the operation, but needless to say it was a shock to learn how to walk again. I was relieved to find out why I had been feeling so poorly, and I suppose my timing was good as the initial surgery took place during the summer holidays.

I’ve had many operations for my hydrocephalus, too many I’ve lost count, but I’m sure it’s over twenty by now. The majority of these operations took place while I was studying for my GCSE’s. I remember having emergency surgery one day, and sitting my maths exam a couple of days after I was discharged from hospital. If I wasn’t having surgery I was attending one of the nine specialists for appointments, scans and tests. Despite the surgery, I had to have more time off school because I wasn’t getting much better. In my final year of GCSE’s I would have gone into school for a few hours a week,  and the teachers would send work home for me for the classes I missed.  I felt that it was important to keep going, not only to attend some classes, but to meet up with friends and try and keep life as normal as possible. I needed to set myself a challenge and have something to focus on, otherwise I may as well have given up which was not an option.  I was realistic and thought about how many GCSE’s I could manage, so I dropped a couple of subjects.  I’m not saying I was pleased to be dropping subjects or it was an easy decision, but I had to be realistic. I thought if I could get my GCSE’s then it would be easier to move on to the next step of my education. I was delighted that I passed six of them.  It was important for me to feel that I had achieved what everyone else was achieving, and that the last two years were not consumed by hospital appointments and operations.

Lower sixth came and once again I had just spent my summer holiday in hospital. In fact, the last four summer holidays have been spent in hospital, so I’ve given each of them a name during the summer period, Costa del Royal, Costa del Frenchay and Costa del Southmead.

I thought that surgery had finished and I was delighted to start my A-Levels, but unfortunately Annie my brain tumour had other ideas and became active. Sadly this meant I had to move to England for 6 weeks of radiotherapy over the Christmas period.  I am pleased to say that Annie is behaving herself and has shrunk by 2mm. I wanted to carry on studying but I decided that after 20 operations and now radiotherapy, maybe I needed to have a break.  It was the best decision I made as it allowed me to concentrate on my health, and decide on how I was going to carry on with my education.  Despite the wonderful support the school has given me throughout my time here, I knew I would be better suited to attend college, as it allows me to study from home on the days that I can’t attend through online learning.

When I was first diagnosed with my brain tumour, I was devastated to find out how little cancer research funding is spent on brain tumours in the UK, currently less than 2%, yet it’s the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40. I wanted to help change this, so I set up a Supporter Group with a charity called, The Brain Tumour Charity. There have been many events held in aid of my Fund with The Charity, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for supporting the fundraising that has taken place at Hunterhouse College.

After radiotherapy in Bristol and knowing I wasn't going back to school for the year, I needed a focus and used this opportunity as a somewhat gap year. This was when my fundraising and awareness raising of brain tumours was my complete focus. To date I’ve raised over £100,000.00 for research into brain tumours. I have learnt so much in the business sense about PR and the positive use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as running a charity.  I have been interviewed on UTV Live and have had articles written about me in the Belfast Telegraph. I have been invited to speak at Stormont and have worked with the Public Health Authority on their cancer awareness campaign.  I also write a blog called, Danielle’s Journey, which follows my journey from my biopsy in June 2013. I am now studying a BTech in Business at College, which I’m enjoying very much.
Looking back I can honestly say that I am not consumed by all the horrible surgeries and sickness.  I look back and know that my diagnosis has helped me to become stronger, independent and optimistic. I have had some amazing opportunities and I have met some incredible people, some who are celebrities but most who have been going through similar journeys.  Annie and Heidi are behaving themselves and I am trying to deal with any symptoms without them stopping me from achieving my goals.

I know I’m only 18 but I want to share with you lessons I have learnt throughout my journey.

Number 1) Just by sending someone a text asking how they are, or a smiley face on “Snap Chat” can really brighten their day, I know it did for me when I couldn’t see my friends as much as I would have liked.

Number 2) Throughout our lives we will all come up against challenges, however big or small it will be a testing time.  Don’t give up and think there are no solutions or other options.  Set yourself personal goals and take one day at a time to achieve them.

Number 3) Don’t hide behind what’s holding you back and look at opportunities to turn a difficult situation into a positive one.

Number 4) Get involved in school activities, charity work and whatever else as these are important life experiences for when you leave school.

Number 5) Remember that there are always other options to achieve your dreams and goals, we aren’t all the same, so be individual.

Finally, my motto which I share on my social media is, #StayStrongKeepPositiveAlways.

Thank You"

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

College Life

I can't believe September has come and gone already. I'm into my second month of college which is going great, this is my first year where I'm doing a BTEC in Business which I hope will lead me onto University. My sister Rebecca attends the same college, she is also in her first year of a Sports course which she enjoys. It's lovely that we're at the same college as we went to the same primary school but different secondary schools. I'm enjoying the course a lot and I've been able to go in everyday, which I wasn't sure if I could manage. The good thing about college is that if I miss a day or two because I'm not well, all the work is online, so I can catch up in my own time. I've two long days, 9-5pm, two shorter days and a day off each week, which I look forward to (I'll tell you why as you read on).

My health has been better and I hope it doesn't decline. I still have all my symptoms, headache, eye pain and vision disturbances in particular, but I've been managing these really well and having energy always helps. I've a few hospital appointments and an MRI scan of my brain coming up at the end of this month in Bristol, but as always I'm thinking of my motto which is, "Stay Strong, Keep Positive, Always...".

When I was younger (this is where I tell you why I like Thursdays) I use to do tap, modern and jazz dance. I loved taking part in the annual summer dance shows, wearing the different costumes and having my hair and make-up done was lots of fun, but then one day I decided to stop, then I became unwell with Annie (brain tumour) and Heidi (hydrocephalus) and until now I haven't been able to go back. I now help with the little ones at my dance school every Thursday for a couple of hours, which I just love, and it felt so good to put on a pair of tap and jazz shoes and shuffle (dance term) my feet once again. After my first day as "Assistant", my muscles got a little bit of a shock as the next day I had really achey legs, from where I've not used them in a while. Last week I was given a "Gillian Doogan School of Dance" t-shirt which says, "Assistant" on the back, I was so excited when I got it.

Last weekend my friend and I took Harry the Pug for a short walk at Hillsborough Forest, which is one of my favourite places. It's lovely to go there in the Autumn season when the leaves are falling off the trees, and they make a crunching sound as you walk on them in your wellieboots. It was great to do something "normal" and Harry loved it too, thankfully he was on his best behaviour and didn't chase any swans.

Danielle X