Derby teen fights back after lockdown cancer shock

A young Derby girl who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in lockdown was allowed only one parent at her bedside when she heard the devastating diagnosis.

But Matilda Hunt, known to her family as Tilly, 13, has battled the condition with expert help from medics to start back in school.

Tilly, who lives near Derby city centre, first complained of headaches and vision problems after closing school and forcing her to work from home.

She started using a school laptop and complained that her eyes were blurry while using it and watching television.

Her father, Jason, 48, a pharmacy technician, initially thought she would just need glasses.

He said: “The school gave her a laptop to do the work and she started complaining of eye pain, migraines and headaches.

“I’m visually impaired so I started to worry a little bit that she might need glasses so we took her to the optician and they said everything was fine and she didn’t need glasses.

“I wasn’t happy about that because she still had a headache, when she was watching TV it became blurry and she started going to bed at 6pm.

“The opticians agreed to book her in and decided to take a picture of the back of her eyes.”

Jason was encouraged to take Tilly to the Derby Royal Hospital eye ward after opticians noticed inflamed optic nerves in both her eyes.

It was at the hospital that Jason was told by the counselor that they had found a mass on Tilly’s brain, but they couldn’t say for sure whether it was cancer or not.

Jason added: “Due to COVID, they only allowed one parent, but they told me to bring in Tilly’s mom.

“Doctors told her to go straight to the QMC to see what they could do and they sent her straight to one of the pediatric cancer wards.

(Image: Jason Hunt)

“We decided to tell Tilly right away, because we thought it would be a good idea to tell her everything from the start, rather than letting her find out later.

“I told her the doctor found something in her brain, she asked if it was cancer, I told her they weren’t sure, but probably it was.

“She cried a little bit, but through the whole experience she’s been so strong, understanding, and able to deal with it.”

After taking the pressure off her brain and going through several rounds of treatment, the family was told that Tilly’s three-centimeter tumor had shrunk to just one, and would be monitored constantly.

Due to the effects of the tumor and its impact on her pituitary gland, Tilly will likely need medication for the rest of her life.

She will also likely always have a tumor, but treatment has worked to change the tumor from malignant to benign.

Because of the position of the tumor and Tilly’s age, doctors were hesitant to operate unless absolutely necessary.

“They couldn’t operate unless they had to, but they said it was quite responsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” Jason explained.

Dad, Jason and Mom, Ruth, helped Tilly with her treatment. (Image: Jason Hunt)

“They warned that it was an intensive treatment and that it would make her sick, but it would be worth it in the end.

“The following Tuesday they started five days of chemotherapy and it took her about a month to recover from that first dose.

“It made her so sick that she had to stay in the hospital for almost 30 days while she went through treatment.”

Now, after completing four cures, Tilly is recovering at home and working to rebuild her strength.

She currently attends Derby Cathedral School for one hour a day, where one of her teachers nominated her for the Enterprise for Education (E4E) award.

The award recognizes those who have shown resilience and courage over the past year.

Tilly’s parents Jason and Ruth, along with Tilly’s two older sisters Vicki (24) and Becky (21) helped her through her treatment. (Image: Jason Hunt)

Lecturer Babs Woodward, who nominated Tilly, said: “Tilly has undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has remained positive throughout.

“She has also continued to finish schoolwork when she was good enough to do so, determined not to fall behind in school.

“She is an incredible young lady who is an inspiration to all of us at Derby Cathedral School.”

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