WHEN Laura Nuttall started getting headaches just weeks into uni, she assumed she had 'fresher's flu'.
But the 19-year-old was diagnosed with Glioblastoma - the most aggressive form of brain cancer - and doctors warned she'd be dead in three months if they didn't remove the worst tumour.
Even after the op, Laura, from Lancs, was given just six to 12 months to live. Amazingly, she's now preparing for her second Christmas since diagnosis - and recent scans show her tumours have shrunk.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, Laura, tells her story...
On Christmas Day this year I’m looking forward to doing all the normal things every family does.
Along with my sister Grace, 18, I’ll get out of bed early to open my stocking, before rushing down to open the presents by the tree with my mum Nicola, 49, and dad Mark, 57.
Then my parents will cook a huge Christmas dinner for us and my grandparents, and if we’re lucky my new little baby cousin Alice will join us, too.
This year will be extra special, because I’m not even supposed to be here.
After being diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma in October last year, doctors gave me six to 12 months to live.
In fact, if surgeons hadn’t operated to remove a brain tumour in November last year, I probably wouldn’t have made it to Christmas last year either - as they gave me just three months.
If surgeons hadn’t operated to remove a brain tumour in November 2018, I probably wouldn’t have made it to Christmas last yearLaura Nuttall
I’ve also beat doctors' expectations by going back to university.
Just under a year after giving up my International Relations course at Kings’ College in London, I started reading PPE at Manchester in September.
It’s been difficult balancing studying, having chemo and travelling to Germany for Immunotherapy treatment, but I’ve loved every minute of being a student again.
It’s all a far cry from this time last year. Shortly after starting at Kings, I started getting headaches.
Initially, I thought it was fresher's flu, but when I had an eye test as part of medical tests to join the University Navy Corps, the optician spotted some pressure behind both my eyes.
Further eye tests proved inconclusive, but then I was rushed to A&E at Homerton hospital, East London, after not being able to get out of bed one morning.
CT and MRI scans revealed the worst, and a doctor took me, my mum and Grace to one side. “It’s bad news,” she said. “The scans show you have several brain tumours.”
I felt numb, and couldn’t take it it in. Mum and Grace were crying next to me. Mum phoned my dad to tell him I might only have a few months to live. It was surreal.
I moved back up north and was booked in for an operation to remove the biggest tumour at Salford Royal Hospital a few days later, on November 7, but that morning I had a seizure.
The surgeon had to make a decision whether it was safe to operate. Luckily, he decided to go ahead. He’s since told me that if he hadn’t operated that day he thinks I wouldn’t be here now.
After the operation, I quit uni. I started a six-week course of radiotherapy, and a 12-month course of chemotherapy, five days on, 23 days off.
Christmas was grim last year. Everyone thought it would be my last one, but I was too ill to enjoy it or make the best of itLaura Nuttall
The run-up to Christmas was grim last year. Everyone thought it would be my last one, but I was too ill to enjoy it or make the best of it - I’d retreated into a shell.
My hair starting falling out and I had to have radiotherapy on my birthday, 23 December.
I missed out on all the preparation, like putting the tree up and listening to Christmas music.
But something good came out of that dark period. My parents took me to see my favourite football team, Everton, play and I got to chat to the England goalie Jordan Pickford.
In January, Mum and I sat down and wrote down all the things I wanted to do. At that point, we still thought I only had a few months left to live, so my parents threw all their energy into making my bucket list come true.
In the past year, I’ve met Michelle Obama and Gillian Anderson, been on safari in South Africa and flown to New York to see Saturday Night Live being filmed. They were all incredible experiences, but it wasn’t just about meeting celebs. I’ve also driven an HGV and piloted a Royal Navy ship.
Most importantly, I also became a Young Ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity. We've already raised thousands for them.
It helps me to raise awareness for the condition, and to encourage young people who have headaches or unusual symptoms to get checked.
Despite doing a bucket list, I've been planning for the future as well. I’m not the type of person to take things lying down - I haven’t ever cried about my diagnosis, and I wanted to use the time I had left well.
It helped me to think positively and work out what I should do with my life. That’s why I decided to reapply to university, despite my surgeon telling me there’s no way I would ever go back.
The tumours will always be in my stem cells, threatening to come back, but my latest scan has given me hope for the futurelaura Nuttall
My scans are encouraging, too. My tumours have been shrinking, you could hardly see them in the scan I had in October.
The tumours will always be in my stem cells, threatening to come back, but this has given me hope for the future.
I recently went to see my surgeon, he wanted to know why I’ve been doing so well while others with a similar diagnosis aren't. He was impressed with how healthy I was looking, and I hope he’s proud of the amazing job he did.
Glioblastoma brain cancer: the facts
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain cancer in adults.
The average survival time is 12-18 months.
Only a quarter of patients survive more than one year.
Just 5% survive more than five years.
Now I'm focusing on making Christmas special for those around me. I’ve bought everyone really nice presents and am determined to enjoy the festivities as much as I can.
The fact I’m getting Christmas again when people didn’t think I’d survive last year is unbelievable.
I just can’t wait to sit down and have lunch with my grandparents. I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment, so this time is a chance to focus totally on my family.
I’m so happy we’ll be celebrating my cousin Alice’s first festive season too. My doctor didn’t even think I’d be around when Alice was born in September.
My mum has used that as a marker to show how wrong they’ve been about me so far, that perhaps I’m going to be OK after all.
As for me, I feel as optimistic as I can in this situation. I’ll carry on taking every day as it comes, while thinking ahead about my future too.
I’m thankful for every day that I get, so whatever situation I find myself in I try to make the most of it.
I’m going to make sure it’s the best Christmas ever.
Laura's family are donating for immunotherapy treatment, as it's not available on the NHS. You can donate here.
Click here for more information about the Brain Tumour Charity.