‘When I started waking every morning with a dull headache at the back of my head in November last year, I assumed I was dehydrated or had a virus.
Then, one day I was driving my eight-year-old son Teddy back from a party and I took a wrong turn near our house. He had to direct us home and I had no idea what had happened. I thought, “That was weird.”
Around the same time I went to hang something in the wardrobe in the spare room and I couldn’t remember how to get out. It’s the smallest room in the house; one door in one door out. It wasn’t complicated. That felt weird too.
That sort of thing started to happen more and more. I’d forget the way, I’d forget where I was, or I’d forget things.
I mentioned it to my wife Kate who told me to go and see a doctor, but the headaches had stopped by this point so I thought it couldn’t be anything serious.
She suggested jokingly that it could be early onset Alzheimer’s, but it didn’t worry me because I’m simply not wired that way; I’m the eternal optimist.
Even so, I went to the GP who checked my eyesight and she worked out fairly quickly that I was going blind in one eye. I had been walking into things because my lower left eye had gone, but because it happened slowly, I hadn’t noticed.
As we left the surgery, I said to Kate that I hoped it was nothing sinister, but she quickly reassured me and pointed out that I was in the right hands.
A couple of weeks later, we went for a CT scan and the doctors told me I had a cyst, which would need a more in-depth brain scan. I don’t know why, but I assumed it really wasn’t that big of a deal, so quickly forgot all about it.
That was until I was out and about one day and I had a call out of the blue from a number I didn’t recognise.
The woman on the other end of the phone said: “Hello. I’m the surgeon’s PA. We’ve got to get your brain tumour out ASAP.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so asked, “What brain tumour?”
She said sorry, adding that she thought I knew, but all I could say back was “don’t apologise – let’s crack on with it”.
It was only when I hung up that it hit me.
When I got home, Kate was standing in the kitchen and I tearfully told her what was happening. She hugged me, told me it would be alright and I pulled myself together straight away.
Once I had further tests, an MRI discovered a tumour in my brain the size of a lime, that they thought had been there for 15 years. That’s why I had been going blind; it had been slowly shutting down the nerves.
It was shocking to think that this thing had been growing for so long, but it was the ‘what-might-have-been’ that was more alarming.
The doctors said it’s not uncommon to have a brain tumour and not know about it. Some people have them all their lives and never know.
During those 15 years, as an actor, I had done numerous TV shows. I did a year on Hollyoaks. I’ve been a regular in numerous things; soaps and commercials and even starred in a movie called Soundproof.
I’ve worked all over the world and I was blissfully unaware.
The interesting thing is that when we found out, my wife said that it explained a few things. We’d been together since 2005, and she had seen changes but couldn’t put her finger on it; things like the clumsiness and the memory. But of course during that time, we’d also had a pandemic and I was getting older. It was so subtle.
On 3rd March 2020, I had a meeting with the surgeon who explained that the tumour was running out of room and shutting my brain down.
They explained that if they didn’t get it out now, I would start having fits, strokes and worse.
He told me the risks; that I could go blind. That I could die. I was in the office with a consultant, his PA and Kate, and I just put my head in my hands and said “flipping heck” so I didn’t let out a volley of foul language.
It was a shock. But that was the hardest part of the whole journey. It was sobering and ground shaking. But it only lasted about ten seconds before I snapped out of it.
Because of how calm, professional and completely reassuring everyone I spoke to was, it really did rub off on me. There was no drama, no panic.
The surgeon told me he did these procedures all the time, and I trusted him. I knew he would do his best.
Three days later, on the day of the surgery, I gave my wife one of the most important hugs of my life, but I never thought for one second the outcome would ever be anything other than completely positive. I believed it firmly to my core.
It was a six-and-a-half hour procedure. They took the back of my scalp and the back of my skull off, which had been deformed by the tumour. They threw it away, added a new one – made out of plastic and concrete – bolted it in and clipped my scalp back on.
When I came round from the surgery, my surgeon gave me Kate on his mobile, and I told her: “My head is banging”. I also said I was desperate to catch the end of Happy Valley and told her not to tell me what had happened. The doctors and nurses laughed, I gave the phone back and the next thing I remember is waking up on the ward.
The operation was on Monday and the following day I was told I’d be able to go home on Thursday. I couldn’t believe it. My head had only just been put back together.
But there were complications and after I’d gone home and the back of my head started to swell right up. I went back into hospital and they had to drain fluid out of the back of my head with massive syringes.
I was told that if it didn’t start to drain on its own I’d need another operation and a lumbar puncture, which would increase the risk of infection.
After a week in hospital, the surgeon told me that I could go home for ten days and then I would have to come back and if it hadn’t started to drain, I would have to have another operation.
I asked what I could do to prevent it and he said: “Just move.”
So I started walking ten miles a day. The back of my head looked like Frankenstein’s monster so I wore a hat everywhere and I was sweating buckets.
On top of keeping fit and eating well, I did affirmations; telling myself it would be alright and that I would beat it.
Every day I got a little bit stronger and by the time I went back to hospital I had walked over 100 miles.
It worked, as I didn’t need any more surgery and the doctors told me that because I was so fit and I had such a positive outlook it really helped with my recovery. I was sopleased.
If I had needed another surgery I would still be in recovery now.
I’m feeling great now. I’m fit and well and I’ve started training for the Cardiff Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for children’s charity Joseph’s Smile, of which I’m a patron. And I’m just about to start filming something new. I’m feeling positive.
The tumour was benign, but it is the type of tumour that can return, so I have to take six monthly scans for the next 12 years. It lodged with me rent free for 15 years and it is not welcome back.
It might sound strange because it was a brain tumour, but the journey was just a completely positive experience and I feel incredibly privileged. It was magical in a way.
We forget how lucky we are in this country to have a health service for us that is free. We have this remarkable bunch of human beings who are skilled to the hilt and they are there for us 24/7.
I feel so lucky; I have a very supportive wife, brilliant parents, two amazing kids and an incredible circle of friends. I was completely wrapped up in love and support and encircling all of that was the amazing NHS.’
Craig is now starring in Soundproof, available to rent or buy on Prime Video, Google Play and Apple TV.
As told to Sarah Ingram.
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