Tom was a 13 year old boy with Autism and ADHD. He struggled at school and didn't want to make a fuss, but when he got beaten up by bullies, his Mum took him straight to hospital where they discovered a brain tumour. After his diagnosis, his mum Leanne started linking up Tom's symptoms and is supporting HeadSmart to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain tumours.
Due to Tom's ADHD, he had suffered with tics and twitches, which had made him a target for bullies at school. He had also been diagnosed with Autism and, understandably, his mum Leanne had put the symptoms he was exhibiting, including eye movements, personality change and fatigue down to those.
“I feel so guilty that I didn't realise what his symptoms meant – mums always blame themselves, don't they?"
His ADHD and autism were diagnosed when he was six and he was prescribed medication, after which he became a "different child - friendly and laid back with lots of friends".
On his first day at secondary school, however, a scuffle broke out and Tom defended a girl who was being bullied by a group of boys. After that day, Tom became a daily target.
“He was picked on every day and he was an easy target for bullies who mimicked his eye flicks and head twitches," said Leanne.
Tom became moody, and would get angry and little things and he wasn't even interested in playing with his little brother.
“But I thought it was just starting a new school and that he was hormonal coming up to adolescence,"
He started having headaches, usually two or three a week - “and I presumed his eye movements – they'd flick up and get 'stuck' – were down to his ADHD. He'd ask me for painkillers sometimes, but never for one second did the possibility of a brain tumour go through my mind," said Leanne. After his diagnosis, the devastated mum started linking up Tom's other symptoms.
On June 23 2017, Tom was on his way home from school when a group of eight or nine older boys beat him up.
“Due to how his autism makes him think, he didn't run back to school to tell them or phone me, he just went home and went to bed," said Leanne.
“When I got home an hour later, he didn't tell me what had happened until I saw that blood was seeping from his head and he had a big bump where someone had hit him."
But Leanne could never have imagined the vicious attack was a blessing in disguise. She took Tom to East Surrey Hospital, Redhill to get him checked over and he had a CT scan. Finally, at 2.30am they were sent home and told to come back in the morning. At 9.30am, a nurse called asking them to come back to hospital straight away. Tom's dad, Tom O'Donoghue, 34, who also has Antonio, six, and Patrick, six months, with Leanne and his sister went with her, too.
“When I was told to come into a room away from Tom, I knew something was very wrong," said Leanne.
“She said the scan had found a 'mass' on his brain."
“I couldn't believe he'd been sent home and thought the mass must be something to do with him being beaten up."
“I just felt sick - how could my son have a brain tumour and I didn't have a clue?"
“But then, at that moment, something clicked in my mind. I didn't have time to fall apart – I had to be strong for Tom and get him through this."
Three days later, Tom was transferred to the neurological ward at St George's Hospital in London.
“He had an MRI scan and doctors couldn't believe he'd been walking around with this massive brain tumour," said Leanne.
Doctors did a biopsy and they had to wait for two weeks for the results. The family's worst fears were confirmed when the revealed the tumour in Tom's right frontal lobe was cancerous.
“We were told it was high grade glioma with several types of cells, usually found in adults, and that it was extremely rare in children," said Leanne.
On August 8, Tom had a six-hour operation to remove the tumour. “I just sat with my family right outside theatre and didn't move for six hours,"
“Surgeons removed the whole tumour and the care he had was incredible."
Tom was referred to The Royal Marsden Hospital, London where he went every day for six weeks of radiotherapy, which finished in November 2017. He's now taking chemotherapy tablets at home.
“Despite two operations and treatment, Tom hasn't complained once," said Leanne.
“He was upset when his hair started falling out, but he just gets on with it and wants to help raise awareness about children's brain tumour symptoms – he's our inspiration."
Doctors are still trying to establish exactly what sort of tumour Tom has as it's so rare and his family don't know what the outcome will be.
“Looking back, I feel so guilty that I was his mum and didn't pick up on his symptoms," said Leanne.
“Bullying is vile and I hate what they put Tom through but, ironically, those bullies saved his life. Now I count my blessings Tom is still with us and make the most of every second."
“We’re supporting HeadSmart as more awareness is crucial and Tom wants to help spare other children going through his ordeal,”- Leanne, Tom's mum