Mum’s shock: ‘An M&M found my brain tumour’

One bite changed the course of Lauren's life

When 31-year-old Lauren Brender bit into a peanut M&M, she heard a loud crack.

Here, the mum from Sydney tells how a sweet treat revealed something deadly.

Sitting in the kitchen of my university dorms, I ripped open a packet of Peanut M&M’s.

Munching away, I was enjoying the sweet treat when I heard a loud crack in my jaw.

That doesn’t sound good, I thought.

I felt around inside my mouth, certain I’d broken a tooth.

But all my gnashers felt fine.

I wasn’t in any pain and when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see any damage.

I was 21 and coming to the end of my year abroad in Amsterdam.

The next few weeks were hectic, and, as I moved home to Sydney, I forgot all about the strange noise.

Then one day, I woke up with an aching in my gums.

I went to see my dentist but when he couldn’t find the cause, I took a few painkillers and hoped it would go away.

Over the next few weeks though, the agony in my mouth became unbearable.

Maybe the M&M did more damage than I thought…

I was sinus prescribed antibiotics for a suspected infection.

But when the pain still didn’t shift I was referred to a neurologist who sent me for an MRI.

Lauren, Gary and baby Ruby. Credit: Supplied
(Lauren, Gary and baby Ruby. Credit: Supplied)

I was also prescribed steroids to treat the inflammation and finally, the pain in my mouth eased.

When I arrived at the doctors for the result of my scan days later, I was confident the problem had been solved.

But then, the doctor dropped a bombshell.

‘The scan shows you have a brain tumour,’ he said.

He explained there was a mass the size of a 20-cent piece near my right ear.

But as the doctor talked me through my options, I was barely listening.

It felt like it was happening to someone else.

Still in shock, I walked out and called my mum, Lisa.

As a theatre nurse, she sprung into action organising appointments with various surgeons.

Some said the location of the tumour made it too difficult to remove and suggested waiting to see if it would grow.

But I hated the thought of doing nothing.

So, two months later, I had brain surgery.

Thankfully, the surgeon, Dr Charlie Teo, was able to remove the entire tumour.

A biopsy found the mass was benign and over the next few months, I made a full recovery.

But frustratingly, the pain in my mouth persisted.

Eventually, I saw an endodontist and he discovered I’d cracked a tooth, just as I’d originally thought.

The doctors couldn’t say whether the tumour would return so I needed regular scans.

But as the years passed, the period in between check ups got longer and the risk of it returning diminished.

Lauren and Gary celebrating Charlie's second birthday. Credit: Supplied
(Lauren and Gary celebrating Charlie’s second birthday. Credit: Supplied)

Meanwhile, my close call had motivated me to go after what I really wanted.

I moved abroad to Singapore and met my wonderful husband Gary.

I was blissfully happy and as time passed, the tumour felt like a distant memory.

Then, in 2017, I gave birth to our son.

We named him Charlie after the surgeon who’d saved my life years earlier.

Soon after, I had another MRI.

There was no change from the previous scan so I got on with life as normal.

Besides, I had my hands full with my son and nine months later, I fell pregnant again.

I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Ruby, and while visiting family with her in Sydney, I went for an MRI.

It had been just over 18 months since my last scan and everything felt fine.

But I was wrong.

‘The tumour’s back,’ the doctor told me. ‘And it’s grown.’

My stomach dropped.

I listened in shock as he explained that the mass had grown to the size of a fist.

The surgeon was confident he could remove the majority of the tumour, but there was no time to waste and I was scheduled for surgery the next day.

Gary flew over from Singapore and that morning, I saw him briefly before going into hospital.

‘I love you so much,’ I told him.

But this time as I was prepped for surgery, I felt terrified.

Charlie meeting his little sister Ruby. Credit: Supplied
(Charlie meeting his little sister Ruby. Credit: Supplied)

It had been eight years since the first operation and so much had changed.

Now, I had my beautiful babies to fight for too.

Eight hours later, I came around from the operation and thankfully it had been a success.

After a few days, I was discharged, and six weeks later, I flew back to Singapore.

The doctors couldn’t say what had caused the tumour to grow or whether it would return.

I changed my lifestyle to reduce the risk but it was difficult to fear something I couldn’t feel.

I’d never had any symptoms.

Had I not cracked my tooth on that Peanut M&M, I might never have known it existed.

Now, we’ve moved back to Sydney and I’m focusing on making the most of life.

Some say I’m lucky to have discovered the tumour early and in many ways, I am.

But it’s hard to accept that I don’t know how to stop it returning.

All I can do now is cherish every moment with my family and take each day as it comes.

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