Exhausted dad’s ‘parenting headaches’ turn out to be first sign of deadly disease

'It felt as if someone was drilling into my skull.'

Exhausted dad’s ‘parenting headaches’ turn out to be first sign of deadly disease
Gary Mackay, with his wife Lisa and children, Sienna and Sebastian at Christmas 2022.
Gary put his headaches and exhaustion down to being a busy working dad (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

When Gary Mackay, 38, started experiencing ‘drilling’ headaches and bouts of exhaustion, he put it down to his lifestyle as a busy working father.

But after a shock collapse last year, a scan revealed the dad’s issues were actually signs of a grade 2 astrocytoma brain tumour.

Gary, a complaints strategy analyst for Barclays, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, said: ‘Everything started making sense. My mysterious collapse was actually a grand-mal seizure.

‘The pain in my head, sometimes so severe it felt as if someone was drilling into my skull, and my lack of energy were all caused by my brain tumour.’

The father-of-two passed out one night in November 2022 and woke up disorientated on the bathroom floor.

A CT scan for a suspected stroke then led to a diagnosis of the tumour, which infiltrates healthy brain tissue, but while waiting for surgery, Gary suffered a second major seizure at home alone with his son, Sebastian, aged four at the time.

Gary Mackay, with his wife Lisa and children, Sienna and Sebastian at Christmas 2022.
A shock collapse in November 2022 led to his diagnosis (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

Gary, also dad to Sienna, eight, and now five-year-old Sebastian, said: ‘I felt a strange aura – what I now know is the feeling you get before you have a seizure – come over me.

‘I had started preparing dinner and put some water on to boil.

‘My next memory was waking up as my wife, Lisa, returned home, and Sebastian saying “daddy’s been asleep for an hour”.’

Gary Mackay's MRI scan image.
Scans revealed the grade 2 tumour (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

When he came round, Gary was able to talk but wasn’t making sense, and when Lisa asked him if he needed medical attention, he was only able to reply ‘I think so.’

In February, Gary had a craniotomy to remove the 5cm tumour from his brain and is now monitored with regular scans.

While the operation was a success, he knows the cancer may return and he could need further treatment.

Gary Mackay in Australia.
Gary says the following few months were a ‘blur’ (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

Gary said: ‘This disease has torn my family’s world apart.

‘We live with uncertainty and that has been horrible to deal with.

‘I thought about everything that I could miss in the future, such as walking my daughter down the aisle, spending time with my son and, eventually, becoming a grandparent.’

Gary Mackay's post surgery scar.
After a second seizure, he underwent brain surgery (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

He is now due to begin training for a National Three Peaks Challenge in May 2024 to raise money for Brain Tumour Research.

‘From my birthday in November 2022, right through Christmas last year, everything is hazy,’ recalled Gary.

‘Although medication was controlling my seizures, the steroids woke me up at 3am every day. It became my alone time where I could just be me and let out my emotions.’

Gary Mackay, with his wife Lisa and children, Sienna and Sebastian post surgery.
He’s now looking forward to spending Christmas with his family (Picture: Brain Tumour Research/SWNS)

The dad is looking forward to spending this Christmas with his family ahead of training for the charity event from January, adding: ‘I want to raise awareness and money for research into brain tumours to combat this disease and stop other families going through the torment it has brought my family.’

Brain tumour symptoms

The symptoms of a brain tumour vary depending on the exact part of the brain affected.

Common symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • seizures (fits)
  • persistently feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting) and drowsiness
  • mental or behavioural changes, such as memory problems or changes in personality
  • progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • vision or speech problems

Sometimes you may not have any symptoms to begin with, or they may develop very slowly over time. See a GP if you’re concerned, particularly if your headaches are getting worse.

Source: NHS

Mel Tiley, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: ‘We’re grateful to Gary for sharing his story and wish him well for any future scans.

‘One in three people know someone affected by a brain tumour, the stats around the disease are disturbing.

‘It’s with the support of people such as Gary that will help us fund research to finder kinder treatments and ultimately a cure for brain tumours.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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