At 18 years old on 4th September 2014 Tawanda Chamunorwa was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour (Ependymoma). This was 2 weeks before he was meant to start University. His bags were packed, student accomodation booked and he was ready to start an adventure of a lifetime but this diagnoses changed everything.
Prior to that Tawanda had been unwell for almost 2 years. It all started with symptoms like constant headaches, migranes, loss of balance, dizziness , blur vision, fatigue and any physical activities had become more challenging. In those years he had been constantly to the Doctors (GPs) but they kept prescribing pain killers and on multiple occasions he was given different types of anti-biotics in suspicion of an ear infection. They even checked his eyes and gave him prescribed glasses but still the migranes continued and the other symptoms worsened.
Tawanda was later refered to the Ears, Nose and Throat (ENT) hospital for further investigations still suspecting ear problems. Again this was another dead end. Nothing was found after all the checks were done. He went back to his Doctor and at this point these symptoms had become extremely bad. He would not come out of the house because of fear of falls and being runned over by cars especially because his vision and balance had become very bad. He even missed some of his school lessons because of all this which was happening to him.
Investigations continued and this time his mum was very frustrated and tired of going back and forth to the GP. It was also very difficult for her because she could clearly see that something was seriously wrong. She had to raise complaints and put pressure for further investigations to be done because she was very concerned about his health and him going to University in that condition.
This is when the ENT specialists refered him to have an MRI scan. After a very long and tiring journey that seemed to be getting nowhere it only took a few hours for results to come back with a possible concern. At first the ENT team said they could see a shadow on the brain and they were sending the imagings to the neuro specialists for further investigations because clearly there was nothing wrong with the ear but something in the brain. A few hours later the specialists came back saying its an emergency that there was a brain tumour. Immediately Tawanda was admitted into hospital. They transfered him to the neuro specialists were he stayed in hospital for surgery the next day.
At this point Tawanda wanted everything to go away so he was ready to do what ever it took for him to get better. The reality of the situation had not sunk in yet. They put him on steroids for 7 days to shrink the pressure of the tumour which was 5.5cm. This wait was very difficult but his faith helped him keep going.
After 7 days his day for surgery came. The surgery started very early in the morning scheduled to finish in 8 hours but it took 14 hours instead because of the size of the tumour, other complications and the location of the tumour which was the postrior fossa (back of the brain). This was critical and Tawanda almost died during surgery but the medical team fought and did their absolute best to not loose him.
The first thing Tawanda asked when he woke up was “mum have you had your breafast?” This was at 1am and he thought it was still the same morning he had gone in for surgery he felt like he had just taken a quick nap not knowing that he had been in a 14 hour surgery.
A week later he had another surgery to remove the rest of the tumour and this time things were totally different. Tawanda deteriorated he could not breath on his own, turn himself, write, talk, eat, walk and he was still bed bound from the previous surgery. This started a journey in ICU for 4 weeks. Tawanda does not remembers much about his time in ICU except of the nightmares he had. Check previous notes.
He was moved to High dependency ward (HDU) then to the main ward were he started rehabilitation. Still not able to eat, walk, talk and do much movement He had speech and language therapy and physio therapy.
He was transfered to cancer specialist hospital for radio therapy treatment where he stayed for 6 weeks.
He made it back home in time for Christmas after months in hospital. Tawanda recalls that Christmas as the worst Christmas because he was still recovering and adjusting to his new normal he just did not feel the same.
He took the whole year off university. Nothing about him went back to normal. He was still getting fatigue from the treatments, his balance was still very bad and physically he was a completely different person.
A year later in 2015 Tawanda went to university he did his first and second year. He struggled a lot and he had to take retakes because he kept failing due to physical and mental challenges.
After his 2nd year at uni in 2017 he had to have a 3rd surgery. This time it was 8 hrs with lesser after effects. His main challenge with this surgery was weakness in his right shoulder so he couldn’t lift anything heavy and the mobility of that hand was very restricted. He would get consistent ringing in the ears (tinntus) and radio therapy treatment continued after this surgery too.
He defered another year for recovery, therapy and rehabilitation.2018 september he went back to university to do his final year. Throughtout his time at university he got help from his university through study skills and mentor support with the disability Support (DSA). He also had a social worker and some cancer charities like Clic Sergent were of great support. He still had his physios, speech and language therapy, Ophthalmologists but he would still attend his lectures. In his own words 3rd year was horrible and one of the toughest journeys he has ever taken. With no friends because they had all graduated and left while he was in hospital. He had assignments, a placement to do and a 10,000 words dissertation. He had alot of hospital appointments far from the time he was at university and with still physical challenges like serious fatigue it was hard to do any work.
After facing all those challenges Tawanda still fought to finish what he had started. He graduated with a BSc Sports therapy and his university gave him a special award for being the most resilient student.
Tawanda’s journey fighting brain cancer still continues. With all the adversities Tawanda started
this brand and movement, ‘Rare and Loved’ to bring people together.
Rare and Loved is for extra ordinary individuals that have or had a health condition or a life experience that sets them apart. This is a home and brand for fighters who are RARE and LOVED!
Throughout this journey battling cancer it has been a long journey filled with good and bad days. Some days Tawanda felt like an overcomer and on some he found himself struggling with depression and wanting to give up on life. It was the little reminders that kept him going from family and friends that his life still had a purpose and that he was and is loved. His condition and life experience sets him apart making him feel different and there are many people around the world with similar battles. Rare and Lovedis about sending sending love all around the world through the brand.
It is all about showing love and support in what could be someone’s most difficult time, so it is also for supporters, family and friends.