The incredible life of brain tumour campaigner Laura Nuttall
The incredible life of Laura Nuttall and her extraordinary bucket list: How brain tumour sufferer defied doctors to meet Michelle Obama, drive a tank and present the weather – before her death at 23
- Brain tumour campaigner Laura Nuttall, from Lancashire, was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma in October 2018 and died at the age of 23 this week
- READ MORE: Five warning signs of a brain tumour – including blurry vision and forgetfulness
Nicola Nuttall, mother of fearless brain cancer campaigner Laura, who died in the early hours of Monday morning aged just 23, has paid tribute to her daughter and the amazing bucket list experiences she managed to tick off despite being only given a year to live following her diagnosis five years ago.
Nicola wrote on her Twitter account @s***scaredmum about the family’s heartbreak, saying of Laura: ‘She was fierce & tenacious to the end & it was truly the honour of my life to be her mum.’
She added that her daughter had been ‘a force of nature’ and that herself, husband Mark and younger sister Gracie ‘are devastated at the thought of life without our girl.’
Since her death, thousands of tributes have poured in for Laura, including from those who helped her to complete an extraordinary bucket list – that saw her meet Michelle Obama, drive a London Tube train and fly over the Equator – that she created after doctors gave her just a year to live in October 2018.
Brain tumour campaigner Laura Nuttall, who died on May 22 aged 23, defied being given just a year to live by doctors after her diagnosis with a stage 4 glioblastoma in 2018 – she went on to meet a host of stars after writing a bucket list including two meetings with former First Lady Michelle Obama
The 23-year-old, who thought her symptoms were ‘freshers’ flu’ when she first became ill nearly five years ago, passed away at home in Lancashire where she was receiving palliative care.
She had been diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma while in her first year of study for an international relations degree at University College London after a routine eye test led to the discovery of multiple brain tumours.
The brave campaigner underwent operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and eventually went back to university in Manchester, where she graduated with a 2:1 in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) last summer.
She raised tens of thousands of pounds for pioneering treatment and was an ambassador for the Brain Tumour Charity.
Her family have shared updates about her condition online – including her heartbreaking final days – through social media and the Doing it For Laura campaign.
Final days: Laura’s mother Nicola has kept followers up to date as her daughter’s health declined, posting this photo last week of her squeezing Laura’s hand
After undergoing treatment, Laura managed to complete her degree, graduating with a 2:1 in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) last summer
Last week, Nicola shared a photo on Twitter of herself holding Laura’s hand and gave an update on her daughter’s condition.
It read: ‘The curtain’s half closed but the window’s open & we feel the breeze & hear the birds. Laura breathes in & breathes out.
‘When the gap gets long I hold my breath but she’s as tenacious in death as she was in life, despite a week without food or water. We hold hands & she squeezes.’
While fundraising for her treatment, Laura enlisted the help of Peter Kay, who hadn’t performed in several years.
In 2021, Peter Kay, second from left, joined the Nuttall family’s efforts, hosting a Q&A session on glioblastoma in honour of Laura (pictured fourth from right, top row) and performing a charity concert
Everton fan Laura also met the stars of the Premier League squad, receiving a signed ball from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford
Driver Andrew Frankel paid tribute to the campaigner, writing: ‘In 2019 I failed to scare her witless in a McLaren 720S at a wet Silverstone’ after Frankel helped her achieve one of her bucket list items
Alongside a tank, a bus and a 650-tonne crane, Laura also added a London Tube to her bucket list
WHAT LAURA NUTTALL ACHIEVED FROM HER BUCKET LIST
- Leapt out of a plane at 15,000ft
- Paid a visit to Heinz Baked Beans factory
- Met form First Lady Michelle Obama twice
- Watched England’s Lionesses win Euro 2022 at Wembley
- Persuaded Peter Kay to come out of retirement for charity concert
- Had a photo with BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce
- Took part in Manchester Pride
- Flew in a private jet
- Drove a London Underground train
- Flew over the Equator
- Went fishing with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse Presented the weather on the BBC
In 2021, the comedian joined the Nuttall family’s efforts, hosting a Q&A session on glioblastoma in honour of Laura and performing a charity concert.
Her ambitious bucket list saw her tick off a remarkable number of dream opportunities before her health declined – including a trip to the Heinz Baked Beans factory, captaining a warship and being driven around Silverstone in a Maclaren racing car.
Alongside a pub lunch and an on-stage appearance with Peter Kay – after he’d been out of the public eye for four years – she also enjoyed a fishing trip with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, had a photo taken alongside Fiona Bruce and met one of her favourite actors, Gillian Anderson.
Driver Andrew Frankel paid tribute to the campaigner, writing: ‘In 2019 I failed to scare her witless in a McLaren 720S at a wet Silverstone’ after Frankel helped her achieve one of her bucket list items.
While studying for her degree, Laura was juggling her university work with pioneering cancer treatment in Germany, which came with its own challenges.
On July 6 last year, the day of Laura’s graduation, Nicola posted an update on her GoFundMe page praising her daughter’s remarkable achievement.
She wrote: ‘In the last 3 years [Laura has] had:
- 19 weeks of immunotherapy treatment in Germany
- 11 cycles of chemo
- 6 rounds of keytruda checkpoint inhibitor
- 4 units of blood
- 2 further brain surgeries
‘Today she got a 2:1 in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
The Lionesses also shared their condolences – Laura’s mum said watching the England team win at Wembley in the Euros had been a fantastic experience for mother and daughter
Laura (pictured with her father Mark) said she could not have achieved any of the incredible things she has done without the support of her family
Laura pictured in childhood with her sister Gracie
Laura had chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy and several operations since she was diagnosed in October 2018 (pictured, right, after one of her operations)
Brain tumours: The statistics and symptoms
- Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 in the UK
- Over 12,000 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour in the UK each year, with almost 5,000 people still losing their lives to the disease per year
- There are over 120 different types of brain tumour, as classified by the World Health Organisation
- Just 12 per cent of adults survive for five years after a brain tumour diagnosis, with the disease continuing to reduce life expectancy by 27 years on average — the highest of any cancer.
Common signs of brain tumours in adults
- Perisistent/recurring headaches
- Seizures or fits
- Memory issues
- Problems with vision
- Cognitive changes, such as difficulty concentrating, learning, decision making, planning and problem solving.
- Speech difficulties
- Loss of taste and smell
Source: The Brain Tumour Charity
‘It’s been so tough, working through sickness and fatigue and in little Airbnbs in Cologne with dodgy WiFi, but she did it and we could not be any prouder of her.
‘Thank you so much for all your help and support in funding her treatment, I honestly don’t think she’d be here without it.’
Speaking at her graduation, Laura said: ‘If someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me even more determined to do it and prove them wrong – my family knows that all too well.
‘So when a doctor told me that I wouldn’t be able to go back to university, I thought, “we’ll see about that” and it made me want to do my degree even more. Now here we are.’
She wrote a moving letter to pupils at Barrowford Primary School, sharing with them the lessons she has learnt in life.
In March, the BBC reported that Laura was undergoing a course of electro hyperthermia after having another operation and was feeling ‘hopeful’ for the future.
‘We had to decide on a next step and my doctor suggested maybe I go to Germany and see if I could have the treatment here,’ she said.
In the last few weeks of Laura’s live, Nicola said the family were spending as much time together as possible in the spring sunshine.
She also said she was ‘pretty sure’ that Laura enjoyed watching the Eurovision Song Contest a few weeks ago.
Last week, Nicola shared how the family were making a cast of Laura holding onto her sister Gracie’s hand. Posting a photo of the first look at the final thing, she said: ‘This is just the first plaster version but I already love it.’
Brain Tumour Charity trustees chairman Jack Morris paid tribute following her death, saying: ‘Since her diagnosis in 2018, Laura was steadfast in her determination to share her story to raise vital awareness of glioblastomas, their devastating impact and the need for greater investment in research.
‘[She] touched the hearts and minds of so many, reaching out to offer comfort and hope to others going through similar diagnoses.’
To learn more about Laura’s campaign to raise awareness of glioblastoma, visit her website, Doing It For Laura
Laura’s letter of life lessons to school pupils
After being diagnosed with a glioblastoma, Laura spoke to pupils in Year 6 at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire on a school visit where she shared her story. After the visit, she wrote them a letter sharing her top life lessons:
I feel very honoured to be writing this letter to you and having met a few of you when I was part of the ‘Human Library’, I have no doubt you will have gathered many of the skills you need for life by attending the brilliant Barrowford Primary School but I wanted to tell you a little bit about me, what I’ve been through, and lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Ever since I was young, I had a plan. A sort of vision about how my life would go, as I imagine most of you do too. I got irritated when things didn’t follow my plan and used every force necessary to put it back on track again. My dad constantly liked to tell me ‘You can’t predict life, you never know what you’re going to get’ and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right.
Whilst I was starting university, by a series of very fortunate events, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. I was lucky, because I was later told that if I wasn’t diagnosed as fast as I was, I wouldn’t be here to write this letter. This news turned mine and my family’s life upside down and we had to start adapting to life with cancer. Much like my dad had predicted, my plan was instantly changed forever.
Dealing with cancer and all its side effects has taught me a few lessons that I would like to share with you today:
Life lesson one: If you get knocked down, don’t stay down
Sometimes you might need a little time to recover from bumps in the road but get up as soon as you can. That’s what will make you strong. Resilience is important because we can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we deal with it.
Life lesson two: Don’t let others limit you or tell you that you can’t do something.
If you work hard and put your mind to it, there’s almost nothing you can’t achieve. Challenge other people’s expectations and make it your mission to prove those doubters wrong.
Life lesson three: Learn to ask for help
Sometimes you will need to ask for help from those around you. This doesn’t make you any less capable. We all need help from time to time and it’s important to talk to the people who care about you. It’s not a sign of weakness!
Life lesson four: Seek out happiness
At the time, finding out I had maybe a year to live was the worst thing I could have imagined, but In the last three years, I have met incredible people, travelled to brilliant places, and lived more in a few years than many people do in a whole lifetime. My situation is not what I would have chosen, but I can honestly say I have made the very best of a bad situation.
Lesson five: Trust in kindness
Although watching the news makes you think the opposite, I have learned that people are really very kind.
My life most definitely hasn’t gone to plan but there are so many opportunities and experiences that I would have missed if it had.
I hope that your life does go to plan, but if it doesn’t, you might be pleasantly surprised at what’s just around the corner for you.
And so, as you all make this next step in your lives, I hope you take all the opportunities life gives you and say ‘yes’ to things, even if you’re a tiny bit scared.
Be kind, be brave, be silly, be honest, be happy, be you.
Love from Laura
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