“The tumour would’ve continued to grow, I would’ve continued to be unwell and would’ve been left with lifechanging disabilities”

Optometrist Cathy Davis prepares to run the Manchester Marathon 18 months on from a brain tumour diagnosis that was spotted thanks to a referral by a colleague 

Cathy Davis in her running kit tying up her shoelaces outside a Specsavers practice
Over the last 12 months optometrist Cathy Davis has had to learn to walk again. Later this month she will run the Manchester Marathon, covering this city’s 26.2-miles course.

In November 2022, Davis underwent brain surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumour that had been spotted as a result of a referral made by a colleague in practice. On the anniversary of her diagnosis last year, she decided to complete the marathon in order to increase awareness of the clinical skills provided by optometrists in the community and to raise funds for the British Acoustic Neuroma Association.

“If you’d told me this time last year, when I was just a few weeks into my recovery, that I’d be running a marathon by April the following year, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I am just so grateful that I can go out there and run over 26 miles, and I can’t wait,” Davis told OT.

Cathy’s story

In September 2022, Davis began to feel unwell and experienced persistent headaches, as well as hair loss and nausea. Listening to her body, she presented to her GP and, on their advice, began keeping a diary of when her headaches occurred.

Speaking about her health to a colleague at Specsavers Omagh, where she has worked for 12 years, optometrist Mairead O’Kane raised concerns about the appearance of Davis’ optic nerve following an eye test.

Referred immediately to the ophthalmology department at Altnagelvin Hospital, Davis subsequently underwent an MRI, and in November 2022 was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a type of brain tumour, which she explained was “thankfully non-cancerous.”

Cathy Davis sitting at a desk in practice looking at a scan. Her colleague is standing behind her.

“The tumour was on the nerve behind my ear that is used for hearing and balance, which explained my sickness – I was experiencing headaches and nausea from the pressure of the tumour, which was also growing,” Davis shared.

The optometrist underwent a 10-hour operation which removed 95% of the tumour in January last year.

Reflecting on her time in intensive care following surgery, Davis said she was cared for by “the most amazing nurses and consultants. They were just absolutely incredible and I owe them all, as well as Mairead, my life.”

Davis believes that if she had not spoken to her colleague about her headaches, “the tumour would’ve continued to grow, I would’ve continued to be unwell and would’ve been left with lifechanging disabilities,” something which was later confirmed by her neurosurgeons at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

While Davis has now returned to work, providing the care that saved her own life, during her recovery she had to regain her balance and strength, and has had to adapt to losing her hearing in one ear.  

Speaking about her experience, Davis said: “It will take me years to process this, however I am determined not to let it define my life. I am so incredibly lucky to have the care, surgery and support needed to get me through this, from my doctors, my colleagues, my gym friends, my group of best friends and my incredible family.”

Davis will complete the Manchester Marathon alongside her friend Cathy McAleer, on 14 April. To support Davis, visit her JustGiving page