Woman who blamed high heels for her poor balance had brain tumour

A Boots eye test saved my life: Woman who blamed her poor balance on high heels and was told her headaches were stress-related reveals she was diagnosed with a brain tumour after an optician detected excess pressure

  • EXCLUSIVE: Amy Bonner, from London, suffered bouts of dizziness and vomiting
  • Symptoms got worse but doctors put them down to the stress of being a student
  • She thought severe balance problems at a work do were due to her high heels
  • One GP said she try meditation and yoga as symptoms ‘probably due to stress’
  • Optician found huge pressure behind Amy’s eyes and scan showed brain tumour

A woman who blamed her poor balance on high heels and was told by a GP to try yoga for ‘stress headaches’ revealed how a Boots optician discovered she had a ‘walnut-sized’ brain tumour. 

Amy Bonner, 25, from London, had been suffering from dizzy spells and vomiting for four years before she was given her devastating diagnosis.

Shortly before they found the tumour, the estate agent marketing executive had also been experiencing headaches and eyesight problems.

Doctors told Amy that she could have slipped into a coma and died within weeks if she hadn’t been diagnosed when she was.


Keen to make a good impression at her first Christmas party at her new job, Amy Bonner (pictured left, and right, in hospital), from London, rationed herself to one glass of prosecco – but her workmates still thought she’d had a few too many when she kept losing her balance

‘I thought maybe my heels were too high and took them off but I was still wobbly,’ said Amy (pictured), who was told only the next day, a far more sinister reason for her symptoms, with an optician’s examination leading to a brain tumour diagnosis

‘For the past four years, I’d suffered dizzy spells and vomiting and more recently terrible headaches and eyesight problems,’ said Amy, 25, an estate agent marketing executive.

‘I was back and forth to doctors who put my symptoms down to the stress of being a student and then starting a new job. One GP told me to try meditation and download a yoga app and said, “You’re a clever girl, you’ll work it out”.’

Amy had two surgeries within a week, firstly to reduce the pressure on her brain and then a seven-hour operation to remove the walnut-sized tumour, that thankfully turned out to be non-cancerous – a grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma – which arises from the supportive cells in the nervous system. 


Amy was diagnosed with a brain tumour (pictured on a scan, left) the size of a walnut in December 2018 after her eye appointment. Pictured right, Amy’s head after her operations

The next day after her work do in December 2018, Amy had an appointment with a Boots optician near her London home.

‘I’d been to see doctors about a dozen times in the last year and wasn’t getting any answers. It felt like no one was listening to me and I felt very down.

‘My symptoms were getting worse – I was vomiting most days, usually first thing in the morning when I woke up. I also suffered excruciating headaches two or three times a week, which lasted a couple of hours.

‘The pain at the back of my head was so bad that I’d go to bed and hold a hot water bottle against my head. My eyesight was getting worse. One day I couldn’t see properly to put my eyeliner on as I had double vision.

Doctors told Amy (pictured with her boyfriend Harry) that she could have slipped into a coma and died within weeks if she hadn’t been diagnosed when she was

‘For the past four years, I’d suffered dizzy spells and vomiting and more recently terrible headaches and eyesight problems,’ said Amy (pictured), 25, an estate agent marketing executive

‘I just thought I needed a new prescription for my glasses and contact lenses so I made an eye test.’

It turned out to be the best decision Amy ever made. ‘That optician saved my life,’ she said. ‘When she gave me the eye test, I couldn’t see the huge E on the chart properly and I started getting nervous.’

WHAT ARE BRAIN TUMOURS?  

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40.

Over 11,700 people are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumour, including 500 children and young people – that’s 32 people every day.

Over 5,000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour each year.

Brain tumours reduce life expectancy by on average 20 years – the highest of any cancer.

Just 19 per cent of adults survive for five years after diagnosis.

Brain tumours are the largest cause of preventable or treatable blindness in children. Childhood brain tumour survivors are ten times more likely to suffer long term disability than well children. This accounts for 20,000 additional disabled life years for all the children who are diagnosed each year. 

Over £500million is spent on cancer research in the UK every year, yet less than 3 per cent is spent on brain tumours.

Source: The Brain Tumour Charity

Amy recalled: ‘Then she did the test puffing air into my eyes to measure pressure, and asked a few colleagues to come into the room and have a look at the results, too.

‘I found out later the pressure at the back of my eyes, especially my right eye, was so high that it was off the chart.’

The optician gave Amy a letter and told her to take it straight to the eye centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting.

‘I sat on the Tube holding the sealed envelope which said “neurology department” on the front,’ said Amy. ‘That’s when I started getting really scared.

‘I’d texted my boyfriend Harry and my mother and father in Tunbridge Wells who jumped straight in the car to meet me at hospital.’

At hospital, Amy had a CT scan but said she new it wasn’t ‘good news’ when doctors came and drew the curtains around her cubicle. 

‘They said they’d found a “mass” on my brain,’ she recalled. ‘My parents and Harry sat there in shocked silence. I was shocked too but asked, “do you mean a brain tumour?”‘

Amy then had a more detailed MRI scan, which confirmed she had a brain tumour in her cerebellum. The diagnosis triggered mixed emotions.

‘It was a weird combination of shock, fear and relief,’ said Amy. ‘When I heard the words “brain tumour,” I was terrified, especially when doctors said it may be cancerous. But at last I knew what was wrong with me and that I wasn’t going mad.’

Amy had two brain surgeries within a week, firstly to reduce the pressure on her brain and then a seven-hour operation to remove the walnut-sized tumour.

Despite doctors’ fears, biopsy results revealed the tumour was non-cancerous – a grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma.

‘I felt blessed my tumour wasn’t cancerous, although low-grade tumours can cause a lot of harm, too,’ said Amy. My surgeon told me it had been growing slowly for up to four years and in recent months had got so big that it was blocking fluid from circulating around my spine.’ 

Amy (pictured recently) had two surgeries within a week, firstly to reduce the pressure on her brain and then a seven-hour operation to remove the walnut-sized tumour

Thankfully the tumours turned out to be non-cancerous – a grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma – which arises from the supportive cells in the nervous system. Pictured, Amy with Harry

Amy’s nightmare started in May 2014 in her first year at Loughborough University. 

‘I suffered vertigo on and off, which doctors told me was from having mumps the previous year,’ said Amy. ‘But, looking back, that was probably the start of my brain tumour symptoms.

‘I couldn’t sleep or lie on my right-hand side without feeling dizzy and sometimes getting sick.’

The symptoms came and went during the next year but Amy still couldn’t sleep on her right-hand side. In her second year, she started going out with her boyfriend, Harry, who was on the same business studies course.

‘He was so supportive and understood when I didn’t want to socialise because I felt ill,’ said Amy. ‘We should have been having fun partying like the other students, but often I just didn’t feel up to it and felt self-conscious about my symptoms.’

The next day after her work do in December 2018, Amy (pictured recently) had an appointment with a Boots optician near her London home

It turned out to be the best decision Amy (pictured with Harry) ever made. ‘That optician saved my life,’ she said. ‘When she gave me the eye test, I couldn’t see the huge E on the chart properly and I started getting nervous.’

Amy (pictured on her first day back at work after surgery) recalled: ‘Then she did the test puffing air into my eyes to measure pressure, and asked a few colleagues to come into the room and have a look at the results, too’

In July 2017, Amy graduated from university and her dizziness and vomiting became severe again.

‘One GP noted that I had had nystagmus, which are abnormal eye movements,’ said Amy. ‘They were put down to vertigo, but now I know they can be a brain tumour symptom.’

By September 2018, Amy had moved to London with Harry and started a new job in central London, but she was struggling with her worsening symptoms.

‘I felt sick on my 40-minute daily commute,’ said Amy. ‘And it was hard making a good impression in my new job when I had to rush to the loo several times a day because I felt ill.

‘Then I started getting headaches, which I couldn’t shift with painkillers. That’s when a GP said it was probably stress and recommended mindfulness and downloading a yoga app. I tried every app going but I was still having headaches.’ 

The optician gave Amy (pictured with her partner on holiday) a letter and told her to take it straight to the eye centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting

At hospital, Amy (pictured completing a tough mudder challenge with her boyfriend before her operations) had a CT scan but said she new it wasn’t ‘good news’ when doctors came and drew the curtains around her cubicle

Over the next few months, Amy started to get severe neck and upper back pain and her eyesight was getting worse.

‘One day, I saw double when I was trying to put my eyeliner on,’ said Amy. That’s when she made that fateful optician’s appointment.

After surgery, Amy suffered double vision for half a year and her balance was poor for a few months.

‘I steadily improved and was back at work after five months – my employers have been so supportive,’ she said and is now doing well and has scans once a year. 

She is sharing her story through The Brain Tumour Charity to raise awareness in National Eye Health Week about vision problems caused by brain tumours and to back the charity’s HeadSmart campaign to raise awareness of symptoms for quicker diagnosis.

‘They said they’d found a “mass” on my brain,’ Amy (pictured in hospital) recalled. ‘My parents and Harry sat there in shocked silence. I was shocked too but asked, “do you mean a brain tumour?”‘


Amy (pictured left before her surgeries, and right, with her partner) then had a more detailed MRI scan, which confirmed she had a brain tumour in her cerebellum

Amy (pictured with her parents) had two brain surgeries within a week, firstly to reduce the pressure on her brain and then a seven-hour operation to remove the walnut-sized tumour

The campaign has halved diagnosis time for children under 12 to 6.5 weeks but teenagers’ diagnosis time lags behind at ten weeks.

According to the charity, this is because teenagers’ symptoms like headaches or mood swings are often put down to exam stress or hormonal changes in puberty.

‘I tell all my friends to get their eyes tested as that optician’s examination saved my life,’ said Amy. ‘And I am passionate about raising awareness about HeadSmart, especially to pick up on teenagers’ symptoms as mine were initially put down to the stress of being a student.

‘Looking back, all my symptoms and little signs fitted together like a jigsaw, and that’s exactly what HeadSmart does – links the warning signs which may mean you have a brain tumour.

‘If I’d known about HeadSmart, I’m convinced I would have been diagnosed earlier and not ended up nearly dying.’

Despite doctors’ fears, biopsy results revealed the tumour was non-cancerous – a grade 1 pilocytic astrocytoma. Pictured, Amy with her parents at her graduation, before her diagnosis

Now Amy (pictured with her father, right, and her boyfriend, left, a year after her diagnosis) is enjoying her ‘new lease of life’, adding: ‘Harry only ever knew me ill but now he’s with the “well” me and we’re living life to the full.’

Amy is sharing her story through The Brain Tumour Charity (pictured is the organisation’s leaflet) to raise awareness in National Eye Health Week about vision problems caused by brain tumours

Now Amy is enjoying her ‘new lease of life’, adding: ‘Harry only ever knew me ill but now he’s with the “well” me and we’re living life to the full.’

She added: ‘I’m one of the lucky ones and if sharing my story can help to save one life, it’s worth it.’

Lorcan Butler, The Brain Tumour Charity’s optical engagement manager said: ‘Like Amy, approximately 30 per cent of people who have a brain tumour experience visual changes in the lead-up to their diagnoses.

‘These changes like blurry and double vision are red flags and people should get checked out by an optician.

‘National Eye Health Week is an excellent opportunity to inform people that an eye examination is more than just determining whether somebody needs glasses or not. It’s also about checking eye health and general health aspects too. We aim to support, educate and are there for people like Amy.’ 

The Brain Tumour Charity is holding virtual Twilight Walks to raise vital funds and also offers support here. 

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