Optometrist Connor McCann on living with a brain tumour

Connor McCann shares how his life changed after a CT scan showed a pear-sized mass on his brain

A man with brown hair and a beard in a grey exercise t-shirt smiles at the camera. He is standing at the top of the hill, and behind him there is a forest and rolling hills
Connor McCann

One cold evening in December 2022, Connor McCann finished seeing his last patient of the day and began to make his journey home on an electric scooter.  

In the months that followed McCann, who usually preferred to walk home, would contemplate how that uncharacteristic decision changed the course of his life.

If he had not selected that scooter, from that particular station, he would not have been knocked off his scooter by a passing car.  

He would not have required hospitalisation and undergone a series of tests. McCann would not have been taken to a private room where clinicians with serious faces waited.

“I wouldn’t have known I had a brain tumour at all. The accident may have saved my life,” he said.   

Reflecting on his diagnosis, McCann shared that he had a surreal sense of calm after being told that a space-occupying lesion had shown up on his CT scan.

“I had read the room. I knew that they were about to deliver some really bad news, but I just didn't know what. So, when they said, ‘It’s a brain tumour’, I wasn't actually surprised,” he said.

The Bristol-based optometrist, who was 32 at the time, had not noticed any troubling symptoms before the scooter accident. But he found himself, in the lead up to Christmas, one of 16,000 people who are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year in the UK.

McCann had surgery to remove the low-grade glioma and has received two MRI scans showing no further tumour growth.

He spoke with OT following his first day back at work as an optometrist.

“I'm increasingly compelled to raise awareness about this condition and advocate for individuals facing similar challenges,” McCann shared.

“Brain tumours claim more lives of children and adults under 40 than any other cancer, so in my view it’s madness that less than 3% of cancer research funding is allocated to brain tumours,” he said.

In comparison to other types of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer, brain cancer has shown limited progress over the past decade in terms of treatment options and survivability.

However, McCann is heartened by news that a treatment for low-grade gliomas, vorasidenib, has been shown in trials to double the time of progression-free survival.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is currently considering whether to make vorasidenib available on the NHS. If successful, it would be the first targeted therapy for this type of cancer to be approved in the UK.

Bristol optometrist Connor McCann.
Connor McCann
Bristol optometrist Connor McCann.

McCann shared that the experience of his brain tumour diagnosis had changed his perspective.

“I realised that there are all these things that you think are problems, but they are probably not real problems at all,” he said.

“Life is precious. Why are you putting off things that you can do today for tomorrow?” McCann observed.

McCann’s tumour was close to an area of the brain that is responsible for speech and language. He was awake during the seven-hour surgery so that clinicians could ask him questions to check his speech.

“Towards the end of the surgery, my speech and language became disrupted to the point where they stopped operating,” he said.

Through the awake craniotomy, the surgeons were able to remove 70% of the tumour, which McCann nicknamed ‘Bob.’

McCann initially experienced aphasia as a result of the operation – this means that sometimes he was not able to speak despite knowing the words he wanted to say.

The aphasia has almost completely resolved unless McCann becomes fatigued or overstimulated.

“I'm passionate about shedding light on invisible illnesses and disabilities, having first-hand experience of the often unseen struggles many individuals endure,” he said.

He has started back at work three days a week with reduced hours.

“I was always keen to get back to work because of the rapport I had with my patients and colleagues,” McCann shared.

“It gives you a goal and something tangible to aim towards,” he said.

I realised that there are all these things that you think are problems, but they are probably not real problems at all


He paid tribute to the support he received from The Benevolent Fund during his recovery.

“It wasn’t really on my radar at all before this happened. It’s something that not all professions have, and I think it is a really important asset,” he shared.

“Optometrists are a small community and we should look out for each other,” McCann shared.

McCann said that,, before the accident, he would never “in a thousand years” have expected to be diagnosed with a brain tumour.

“It's been a roller coaster ride. Your health is so important. I look at my own life, and I was so stressed all the time that I wasn’t looking after my own mental and physical wellbeing,” he said.

“It took an incident like a brain tumour to really prioritise my health,” McCann highlighted.

McCann is chronicling his experiences through an online blog. To find out more about brain tumours in the UK, or to donate, visit The Brain Tumour Charity

Optical engagement manager at The Brain Tumour Charity, Lorcan Butler, thanked McCann for his courage in sharing his experience.

Butler highlighted that there are 130 different types of brain tumours which can present with non-specific signs and symptoms – or, as in McCann’s case, no symptoms at all.

“Connor’s story is a stark reminder to everybody that brain tumours are indiscriminate and can choose anyone, regardless of age, gender, or profession. Connor’s diagnosis was unconventional and an incidental finding. This could be your next asymptomatic patient in your clinic as you are reading this article,” he said.

The Benevolent Fund is supported by the College of Optometrists and Association of Optometrists.

Lynne Brown, administrative secretary of the fund, encouraged people who experiencing financial difficulties as a result of ill health to get in touch with the fund by email.

"When serious illness strikes, and your health is affected for some time, it can be difficult to make ends meet until you are back at work, earning your normal salary. The last thing you need when getting over a set-back, is the worry that you can't afford to pay the rent or feed your family,” she shared.

“At times like these, the Benevolent Fund can stand alongside you on your journey to recovery. It may help you directly with a financial grant but just as importantly, it has links to other agencies that might be able to provide extra advice and guidance, such as practical help to submit a claim for benefits,” she said.