Stortford mum Ally Parkes draws on emotional trauma of living with brain tumour for 10 years to write debut novel she hopes will inspire others facing life-changing challenges
Ally Parkes was 31 with a two-year-old and a newborn when doctors discovered she had a brain tumour she had been living with for 10 years.
The 16-hour surgery to remove it has left her deaf in one ear and with partial facial palsy and balance problems. She had to learn again how to walk, stand up and sit down, and ride a bike.
But the mother of two from Bishop's Stortford, who works as an NHS occupational therapist, has used her traumatic experience to write a novel that she hopes will help others faced with life-changing challenges.
No Longer Me, which was launched on Amazon in both e-book and paperback format on September 21, charts the journey of Chloe Richards in a story loosely based on Ally's own experiences.
"It's not an autobiography, but I wanted it to be about the journey so I created a fictional character, but who wasn't married or had kids. The story she goes on is similar to my own, but I wanted it to be all about the individual," said Ally, now 39.
In the aftermath of surgery to remove the benign tumour, Ally endured endless consultations and hospital appointments, and the emotional trauma she suffered stayed with her.
"When things settled down I realised I still had quite a lot of emotion in me about what had happened and a friend said I should write it down. So I wrote about the hardest bits I had to go through with the idea of turning it into a book.
"I was lucky that my kids were two and three months old at the time and they gave me the motivation to get through it, but I wanted to separate them and my husband from the fictional story as I felt I had to protect them, but it will be a memoir for them."
Ally lives with husband Duncan, 41, in Wentworth Drive. Their children, Keiran and Livvy, are now 11 and 8, and attend St Mary's Catholic School St Michael's CofE Primary in Stortford.
The book is self-published. "I haven't written it to become a multi-million-pound-selling author, it was just my therapy to get the stuff in my head out onto paper."
She also suffers chronic fatigue, and it is these less obvious consequences that she hopes to raise awareness of.
"If someone else picks up my book and feels how I felt, if my book can reach one person then that's a positive. That's why it's called No Longer Me as it's no longer the life I had known.
"I'm so proud to have written it. And for me, a technophobe! I formatted it all, hired a professional editor, created a website and put it on Twitter – it's been an amazing journey."
Ally was eight months' pregnant with Livvy when she first noticed something wasn't right.
"I'd been doing a hypnobirthing CD, and rolled onto my right side and realised I couldn't hear out of my right ear. I went to the doctors after I started to get tinnitus and then had some hearing and balance tests. They thought it was labyrinthitis [inflammation of the inner ear].
"They did an MRI after I'd had the baby and that's when it was discovered. The tumour was very large. I'd probably had it for about 10 years and it was life-threatening. Within two weeks I was in surgery.
"It had grown along the ear canal and filled the space in my brain and had started to compress on my brain stem, which was the danger."
The surgery left her deaf in her right ear and initially she was completely paralysed on her right side. Several more operations followed and over the course of a year her condition improved, but the partial facial palsy remained, along with balance problems.
"I had to learn to compensate for no balance, everything had to recalibrate – I had to learn to walk, stand up and sit down again, ride a bike. I had to eat puréed food through a straw. But the NHS has been amazing and if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here."
Ally, who attended Leventhorpe School in Sawbridgeworth, works with older people suffering from dementia in her role as an NHS occupational therapist.
"As an OT we help people live and cope and adjust to illnesses or injuries, so for me it was very much a case of practising what I preach!" she said.
"I do feel grieved for the person I was and how I looked, but at the same time I am braver, tougher and wiser and have much more appreciation of life, and, for the most part, that's what I hold on to.
"I still have a life – and lots of people don't get that chance."