YOU’D probably never expect to hear someone say this, but sometimes part of me is actually grateful for having brain cancer.
There’s beauty in it. It brings things into perspective.
It’s taught me a lot about life, to value every moment.
It’s brought my family and friends closer together, it’s introduced me to inspirational people from all over the world and, most importantly, it’s reminded me that no matter what life throws at us, there is always hope.
Pretty much from the moment I was diagnosed, Ed Sheeran reached out to me with an offer to do anything he could to help.
Ed and I have known each other since he joined The Wanted on our tour bus during a promotion trip in America more than ten years ago.
We’ve always run into each other over the years and had a great relationship.
I’ve never publicly said this before (and he’ll probably be mad that I’m doing it now) but Ed is a very special man — he even helped out with my medical bills when I was seeking other treatment options and having private immunotherapy.
He didn’t need to do any of that, but my wife Kelsey and I are so grateful to him for his support. It meant the world.
It was in October 2020, at the age of 32, that I received the devastating news I had an inoperable brain tumour.
Overnight, my entire world turned upside down and I was forced to re-evaluate the value of life itself.
I couldn’t process the information — it was truly staggering. I just kept asking myself how a 32-year-old father, with a wife who was 35 weeks pregnant, could receive such world-shattering news.
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In a dark mental space
I was absolutely petrified — I couldn’t stop thinking about death.
Then there was an agonising ten days waiting for the results of further tests and a biopsy.
It turned out to be the worst-case scenario. It was a particularly aggressive, fast-growing grade 4 brain tumour called a glioblastoma.
My tumour affects the part of my brain which is responsible for movement and memory, so I struggle with walking and my short-term memory is appalling.
It also affects my fine motor skills, so, for example, I can’t fully open my hand up, even when I really try, which gets quite frustrating.
When you watch a TV show and a patient gets told they have a certain amount of time left to live, that is a prognosis.
When I was first diagnosed, I would have found out the prognosis, but Kelsey and my brother Lewis stopped me.
I was fishing around for a hint from the doctors, but Kelsey and Lewis thought it would be better for my mental health — especially at that time when I was in a particularly dark mental space — for me not to be given more difficult news.
I needed to be able to live with hope and they wanted to protect me from anything that would have damaged that.
I’m not sure how helpful it would have been for someone to make an estimate on how long they thought I had left.
‘Having brain cancer has taught me a lot about life, to value every moment. It brought my family and friends closer. It reminded me that there is always hope’
Whatever they might have said that day, I’m sure that they wouldn’t have predicted I’d still be here doing half of the things I’ve achieved since.
Without Kelsey, I genuinely don’t think I would have made it through.
Not only as my wife, but as a caregiver. She’s been incredible.
Kelsey and I met in December 2009, in the smoking area of Aura Mayfair, a nightclub in London’s West End.
I think she actually saw me first. She was with Pixie Lott, her best mate from school. Apparently, Kelsey told one of her mates, ‘I’m in love with him’. It was literally love at first sight.
I asked her name so I could look her up on Facebook. At the time I thought that was the cool thing to do, but she looked at me like I was mental.
I told her I was in a band and, luckily for me, she told me her name.
Later that night I was paralytically drunk, kissing this girl who I believed to be Kelsey.
I soon discovered that I’d actually been with a totally different girl, who I had somehow managed to mistake for her.
That gives you a bit of an idea of the state I was allowing myself to get into during those early days of living in London with the band.
The next morning I sent a text to the only Kelsey in my phone, which turned out to be a guy I knew from Bolton! I’m thankful to say that somehow, despite these embarrassing episodes, we did end up together.
Kelsey was 19 at the time, and I was 21. We had such an instant connection, I knew she was my person immediately.
I’m ashamed to say that this doesn’t mean I treated her the way I should have straight away.
My eyes were glued to her
In fact, I was quite s**tty to her during our first year. I felt as though my commitment to being part of a rising boyband meant that I was unable to be in a relationship.
I thought that it might ruin my image.
But at the same time, I couldn’t keep away from her. I’d keep inviting her along to things, but I was afraid to make things official or call her my girlfriend.
I regret acting like that. We ended up separating and we didn’t talk for six months. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
When The Wanted played our first headline show in London at the Hammersmith Apollo, I texted her an invite.
I was surprised to see she actually turned up, and for the entire show I sang to her. My eyes were glued to her the whole time.
Afterwards, Kelsey came backstage and I invited her to come out with the band and crew. She turned me down. I was devastated.
Shortly after all this, I was on holiday in Marbella. It was raining and I was having the worst time.
I realised how stupid I was being and called Kelsey. “I’m ready to be with you now.’”
“Okay, well, I might not be ready to be with you!” she said.
Luckily, when we got back and met up, Kelsey was ready to be with me, and we got back together.
I think that us meeting when we did helped us to stay grounded.
We’ve remained the people that we always were. If I ever did get a bit carried away, she would tell me to shut up. She’s my guardian angel. She’s my rock.
I imagine it’s been tough for Kelsey to see the man she loves go through something so challenging and that I’m not as present with the kids any more because of everything.
But we’ve been there for each other, got through things as best we could and discovered throughout that laughter is the way.
I’ve come a long way now in terms of acceptance. At times my mind has drifted to dark places, but you’ve got to pick yourself up and keep going.
I’ve had to accept that my life has changed now, but this is still my life and I’m choosing to keep on living it.
It took me some time to become myself again, to find my way back from the Tom who spent three months in bed.
It would be easy to say, ‘I’m just going to lie here and die’, but I started to think that maybe I was put here for a reason.
And that reason is to raise more awareness about glioblastoma.
Whatever happens to me, if it can have a positive effect on the treatment of glioblastoma, then that’s a good thing.
I wouldn’t wish radiotherapy and chemotherapy on my worst enemy.
It’s a bizarre experience
Truly the darkest moments of this journey so far were those spent trying to pick myself up after spending a day enduring radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
And I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that a doctor had told me that I was going to die soon.
In radiotherapy, your head is held in place with a special mask so that they can blast the tumour specifically.
It only takes about ten minutes, but you go in there one person and come out completely different.
At times you can literally be mid-thought and feel that thought suddenly disappear due to radiation — it’s a bizarre experience.
It gets easier, but for the first couple of times in particular it felt quite claustrophobic, being pinned in there.
Chemotherapy leaves you with severe exhaustion and fatigue.
Your mind completely changes, you’re so low. The chemo kills your taste buds, so you don’t want to eat any more.
Your mouth is full of ulcers and your lips are covered in sores.
Food becomes fuel — there is no pleasure in it any more, everything tastes metallic.
“You’re constantly being sick. It’s like a light has been extinguished on a world that you used to know. There’s too much going on and you can’t cope, so you start to withdraw into yourself and lose touch with reality.
You’re no longer the person that you used to be.
My fifth cycle was probably the most difficult part of this whole experience — my mind went into dark places and I couldn’t face the possibility of it happening again.
I decided to turn down my sixth cycle. Despite this, I would end up returning to it later in my journey.
I had to remind myself that I wanted to live.
Having a baby brings a light
OUR son, Bodhi Thomas Paris Parker, was born on October 20, 2020 – not too long after I’d been given my diagnosis.
It was a very difficult time, trying to work around my treatment but also the Covid pandemic, which added further complication and protocol to the process.
It was a very intense time and I wasn’t really all there because of my treatment.
After Bodhi was born, Kelsey sent me home so that I could get some rest before travelling back into central London the next morning.
I was only able to have one day off radiotherapy. It was incredibly difficult to leave my wife and newborn son in hospital and drag myself away to treatment the next day, but it was the best thing for all of us in the bigger picture.
The obsession I’d had with my daughter Aurelia when she was born in June 2019 made my limited involvement with Bodhi – because of my treatment – all the more difficult to accept.
At least because I knew how well things turned out for Aurelia,
I had confidence that Bo would be all right.
Despite everything that is going on with me, having another baby brings more light into every day.
Having kids has taught me that you can get through anything.
Even with the difficult conditions around Bodhi’s birth, I believe we were meant to have a baby at that time.
As Kelsey always says: “Is it ideal for your husband to be diagnosed with a brain tumour when you’re 35 weeks pregnant in the middle of a global pandemic? Probably not.”
But what’s meant to be is meant to be.
Adapted by EMILY FAIRBAIRN and DOUG WIGHT from Hope: My Inspirational Life by Tom Parker, published on May 26 by Blink Publishing.