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The girl who had worms in her brain: Part 1 – in the news again…

I’m in the papers again. To quote Dame Bassey; ‘it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.’

February, 2005:
Well into recovery from a particularly nasty brain infection, I decided to thank the universe for my survival by fundraising for brain injury charity Headway Essex. I duly emailed a press release to my local newspaper telling them I planned a quiz night and asking if they could give me a plug. To explain why I’d chosen to support Headway, I included nformation about my own neurological malfunction. (The whole experience will be detailed in later instalments. In summary, it involved volunteering in Madagascar (yes, the place where the lemurs like to Move It Move It) and contracting a cleverly evolved parasite – the Taenia solium tapeworm – the larvae of which found their way into my brain and caused a spot of bother.) Yes, the paper could give me a plug. In fact, they were so enamoured of my tale – with its double allure of exotic location and exotic parasite – that they wrote a feature. I was chuffed; ‘look Mum, I’m in the paper!’

And so the celebrity styling of Girl With Worm in Brain began.

It started, as I recall, with a much sensationalised version of the original story appearing in tabloid newspaper The Mirror, where I shared a page with the Pope. (In the current iteration, I’ve been upgraded; I now share space with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Next time around, I’m expecting to feature alongside Elvis.)  After this, I was contacted at work by numerous people wanting to write my story for magazines such as Closer and Take a Break. (For those outside the UK; these are popular magazines for Ladies What Lunch. Mostly, they include shocking tales about Love Rats. There are also TV listings and crosswords; which is the reason that I buy them. Although, whilst I’m there, I might possibly have a glance at the Love Rat story.) I even had an invitation to appear on Richard & Judy (loveable husband and wife talk show team.) This was all a tad discombobulating.

After due consideration, I opted for a feature in the health section of the sensible Woman’s Own and to appear on easy-watching TV show This Morning with the truly fabulous Lorraine Kelly (my boyfriend (of the time) never did recover from getting a flash of her stocking top) the genuinely warm Dr Chris and an orange man with shining teeth whose name escapes me. I picked these less dramatic channels because I didn’t want the story to be sensationalised (any more than it already had been: ‘no, they were not eating my brain. And no, they didn’t enter via my ear “like in Wrath of Khan” ‘) and I certainly didn’t want to put people off the idea of volunteering overseas.

And then everyone got bored with the worms and we all got on with our lives.

May, 2013:
Ten years have passed since the exciting adventure to Madagascar. And it’s the year I turn 40:  a momentous occasion that I’m celebrating with a Superhero party. (Not, as bizarrely reported in the paper, with a Superhark. Although I rather think I’d like to invent one.) Even better; I discover that Headway Essex has organised a fun run on the day of my party. So, thinks I, let’s sign up for this run and make some money for one of my favourite charities. To make it personal – as it’s the 10 year anniversary of where it all began – let’s also share part of my own story on my Justgiving page. Let’s give people a flavour of what it can be like when your brain doesn’t work as it ought. Let’s show how important a charity like Headway is in helping people to recover from their injury or, as is necessary in many cases, to adapt to a different life.

Can you guess what happens next..?

Headway Essex spots my story. They contact me to ask if their friendly journalist can interview me for the local paper. Of course! I’m an exhibitionist, and I’m happy to help. The interview happens. And then I go off to the Peak District with the dog.

The story runs in two local papers. Accompanied by yours truly in full Aardman smile mode. (I have ‘Creature Comforts syndrome’ – point a camera at me and I become a plasticine head full of teeth.)  The next day, I’m also in the Daily Mail, The Times and – best of all – the Metro; where I’m pictured below a photo of Her Royal Highness, with the exceedingly low-key headline: WORM IN MY BRAIN ALMOST KILLED ME! Friends contact me; distressed to be on the London underground (where said newspaper is distributed for free) surrounded by a sea of over-smiling Sherrys. Whilst all this is happening, I’m yomping around the moors, cagoule-clad, enjoying the rainy ambience. I can’t access the Internet to catch all the news, but I get snippets by text; a freelance writer for a woman’s magazine wishes to speak with me, a message from work – several journalists have been asking for for me. Whilst sitting on a tree stump in a woodland, I take part in a radio interview (this is a good thing – as I can garble the story in my own words. Chickens are mentioned. I think I’m happy to be counting them. ‘Blessings‘ – the presenter gently corrects me.) Headway Essex contacts me following the radio outing; would I be happy to do a TV interview next week..?

It’s all rather bonkers really. The philosopher in me is fascinated as to why my story generates so much interest. After all, people survive far worse and have much better stories to tell. Is it that my tale has a touch of the fantastical? Is it so exciting because it’s something people know can’t possibly happen to them? Or is it just interesting because it’s so different from what one usually reads about?

Back in 2005, I wasn’t Interweb enabled. Facebook was still a couple of years away for me, Twitter further still, let alone any thoughts of blogging. Now, however, it’s 2013; my brain is in perfect (well, as good as it’s going to get) working order and I can tell you my story myself. From the beginning. With the gory bits in all the right places. And the funny bits. And perhaps some of the sad bits too – but we’ll try not to have too many of those.

Are you sitting comfortably..?

The story begins in 2002, with my spotting an advert in the Big Issue magazine:

Volunteers sought to spend three months supporting a small organisation working in Madagascar.

Well, it’s been a while since my last adventure…

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