A mother has revealed how snacking on chocolate during a college trip led her down a path of remarkable coincidence which saw doctors discover two tumours growing across the same section of her brain almost a decade apart.
Lauren Brender was 21 when she cracked her tooth on a peanut M&M on a university exchange in Tilburg, one hour south of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands in December 2010.
Two months later, after returning to Australia, the Sydney student saw a dentist for a dull, aching pain which had started to radiate from her gums across her face.
Finding no answers, she booked an appointment with a neurologist who prescribed steroids for the pain and took a routine MRI scan to rule out anything sinister.
After the steroids relieved her discomfort, Lauren phoned the clinic to cancel her follow up visit - but returned on the insistence of the receptionist.
She was left speechless when her doctor broke the devastating news that a tumour was growing on the frontal lobe of her brain.
Sydney mother Lauren Brender has revealed how cracking her tooth on a peanut M&M led doctors to discover two tumours growing across the same section of her brain almost a decade apart (pictured with daughter Ruby in May 2019)
Having experienced no common symptoms, Lauren was stunned when a neurologist gave her the devastating news that a tumour was growing on the frontal lobe of her brain in 2011 (pictured in 2016)
'I went to the appointment alone, not expecting a thing, and she sat me down and said "here are the results of the scan - you have a brain tumour". I was in shock,' she told Daily Mail Australia.
Lauren was fortunate to secure a consultation with famed Australian neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who performed a craniotomy to remove the growth which was analysed and classified as a grade two astrocytoma benign tumour.
After less than a week in hospital, then 22-year-old Lauren returned home and made a swift recovery (pictured shortly after her surgery in 2011)
Because it was benign, meaning non-cancerous, Lauren did not require further treatment like chemotherapy or radiation.
After spending less than a week in hospital, the then 22-year-old returned home and made a swift recovery, largely thanks to her age.
'I was very tired and found it quite difficult to concentrate initially, but because I was so young the recovery time was really quick,' she said.
Yet soon after her surgery, the pain in Lauren's face returned.
Repeated trips to an endodontist - a dentist who specialises in root canals - revealed the ache had been caused by her cracked tooth all along, not the tumour, an incredible coincidence that still baffles Lauren today.
'I never had a single symptom of a brain tumour,' she said, stressing she experienced none of the commonly associated complaints like headaches, seizures, personality changes, fatigue, nausea or memory problems.
Lauren was fortunate to secure a consultation with famed Australian neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who performed a craniotomy to remove the growth (pictured together at a charity fundraiser shortly after Lauren's surgery in 2011)
Symptoms of a brain tumour
- Headaches, which tend to worsen with movement or in the early morning
- Seizures and weakness or paralysis of part of the body
- Personality or sudden mood changes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Unexplained difficulties with memory and sleep
- Changes in vision, smell or hearing
- Changes in ability to walk or perform normal motor functions
Source: Cancer Council Australia
The bizarre simplicity of her experience left her struggling to accept all that had happened in such a short space of time, but eventually she put the ordeal to the back of her mind.
Since 2010, Lauren, now 31, has qualified as a speech therapist, moved to Singapore and back to Sydney, married her childhood sweetheart Gary and welcomed two beautiful children, son Charlie, two, and daughter Ruby, who will turn one in April.
Had I not cracked my tooth on that peanut M&M, had the dentist immediately understood what my problem was, or had the GP not sent me to see a neurologist, my life could have been completely different.
She underwent yearly scans to monitor changes around the original growth site, but nothing sinister was discovered until May 2019.
Less than two months after giving birth to Ruby, a routine MRI revealed a second astrocytoma tumour the size of a fist had grown across the front of her brain.
Since her ordeal began in 2010, Lauren has qualified as a speech therapist, moved to Singapore and back to Sydney, married and welcomed two children, son Charlie and daughter Ruby (pictured with husband Gary and Ruby in 2019)
The bizarre simplicity of Lauren's experience left her struggling to accept all that had happened in such a short space of time, but eventually she put the ordeal to the back of her mind and focused on raising her adorable children (pictured with son Charlie in 2019)
Doctors performed emergency surgery which successfully removed the growth, but recovery the second time round was considerably tougher for the mother-of-two.
'Last year was the worst year of my life,' she said.
'I've been really down. It was just a huge shock. I never ever thought it would return, and the recovery was so much more difficult this time. I was in my thirties and had two young children.'
Doctors say there is a chance the tumour will grow for a third time, which means Lauren must now have scans every three to six months to monitor the area, but the cause of the tumours remains unclear.
It's a stark reality she struggles to come to terms with.
Lauren must now have scans every three to six months to monitor changes in her brain, a stark reality she struggles to accept while raising her two adorable children (pictured)
'I'm constantly faced with my own mortality while staring into the eyes of my greatest joys in life, my tiny children, who rely on my existence to survive,' she said.
Lauren often reflects on how different her life might have been had she never broken her tooth on a normally inconsequential piece of chocolate.
'It's incredible to think had I not cracked my tooth on that peanut M&M, had the dentist immediately understood what my problem was, or had the GP not sent me to see a neurologist, my life could have been completely different.'
Her greatest wish is to understand what's causing the tumours to recur, but she is grateful for the lessons she has learned over the past 10 years.