A teen who says he only likes mild curries was stunned when a doctor suggested spicy food was making him ill – as he was regularly being sick and suffering with intense headaches. Three medics concluded he was just having migraines and one blamed it on him eating too much spicy food and drinking too much fizzy pop.
Jake Adams, then 19, said he found the suggestion ‘ridiculous’ as he says he prefers ‘milder’ food and says he and would only drink one can of pop per day. Two days later the retail worker suddenly felt as though his legs were moving in slow motion and his body was ‘shutting down’ while serving a customer in September 2019.
Jake was rushed to A&E by concerned family members leading to a small tumour being found on his brain. He says the discovery was ‘some sort of relief’ as it answered questions about his worrying condition but the news it was malignant left him feeling he’d been served a ‘death sentence’.
A year-long battle with five surgeries, five months of chemotherapy and 30 sessions of gruelling radiotherapy over Christmas thankfully left Jake tumour-free by September 2020. The former sports journalism student, now 23, is sharing his story to urge young people to get their symptoms checked as part of International Brain Tumour Awareness Week.
Jake said: “One doctor told me to cut down on spicy food and fizzy drinks. I found it a bit ridiculous because it was totally irrelevant. I was just doing what everyone else was doing. I didn’t mind a curry but I didn’t eat it too often and I’d say I drank one fizzy pop can a day so nothing more than an average person would. The funny thing is I’m a milder eater when it comes to spicy food and I was drinking as much as an average person would.
“I like simple Chinese dishes and Mexican food. I hadn’t said anything to the doctor but I think the symptoms I came to him with made him come up with that random explanation. Maybe they thought it was to do with the feelings in my stomach going to my head. It was a curveball and I don’t really know the logic behind it. Because of the pain I was in, [the tumour diagnosis] was actually some sort of relief because it was an answer to a couple of months of problems.
“But when I was told it was malignant it really shook me up. I couldn’t react to it emotionally but I was just in shock. When I started my brain surgery I was asking my parents ‘am I going to die?’. For someone who didn’t know anything about cancer it felt like it was a death sentence.”
Jake experienced regular headaches for two months without going to the doctors because he insisted they were manageable. He claims he saw three health professionals and spent weeks on migraine medication before the concerning incident at work made him rush to A&E.
He had been asked to help serve customers but it felt like his legs were functioning in slow motion as he went to move. Jake said: “I couldn’t make them go any quicker and it was like my body was shutting down. Later that night a colleague reminded me to do something which I thought I’d already done but hadn’t.
“They thought I seemed a bit delirious, so they contacted my parents and we went straight to A&E in Sunderland. I was oddly unfazed and the people around me were more worried. I think I was more subconsciously concerned and that’s strange to look back on.”
When a CT scan showed a lesion on Jake’s brain he was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle for an MRI scan. It confirmed the mass to be a brain tumour so surgeons operated to remove it and despite hoping they’d got it all a subsequent MRI scan revealed he’d need more ops.
Further complications meant he had to endure five procedures in around seven weeks, during which doctors broke the news that the tumour was malignant. He began 30 sessions of radiotherapy in November 2019, which left him feeling ‘completely wiped out’.
In March 2020 he faced five months of chemotherapy on a Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. Jake is now urging young people to get their symptoms checked out.
He said: “I’d had headaches for two months before I went to see a doctor and that’s only because the pain got so bad and the headaches were constant. If you have abnormal symptoms of any kind, or if you are feeling different, it’s really important to get it checked out.
“Be persistent if the symptoms aren’t going away. If it is cancer, it’s better to catch it early and if it’s not then at least you can rule that out.”
A survey revealed that nearly half (47 per cent) of teenagers and young adults diagnosed with cancer had to see their GP three or more times before referral – the most out of any age group. Every day, seven young people aged 13-24 will be told they have cancer and symptoms in teenagers and young adults can often be mistaken for other illnesses, infections or growing pains.
Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to providing people with specialised nursing care and support. The charity funds specialised nurses, youth support coordinators and hospital units in the NHS.
Jake raised around £1,500 for The Teenage Cancer Trust by completing The Great North Run in 2022 is now backing their latest appeal named ‘Stop Cancer Destroying Teenage Lives’. It aims to ensure young people with cancer receive urgently needed specialist care and support amid mounting pressure on the NHS and the spiralling cost of living crisis.