A NUN was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour after a doctor spotted symptoms of the condition – by seeing her on a television programme.
Sister Aelred, of the Convent of Poor Clares in Crossbush, had been on the One Show in 2010, when her physical appearance prompted a leading doctor to contact the BBC.
She had been taking part in a feature on how real nuns live to coincide with the appearance of Whoopi Goldberg, who was promoting the West End performance of Sister Act.
But what Sr Aelred did not realise at the time was that she was living with a rare condition which can cause significant disfigurement and even death if untreated.
Dr John Bevan had been watching the programme at the time and emailed the show to say he was ‘99 per cent certain’ Sr Aelred had acromegaly.
While undetectable to untrained eyes, acromegaly causes the pituitary gland to produce excessive amount of growth hormone and leads to the enlargening of internal and external parts of the body.
Luckily for Sr Aelred, the condition was immediately obvious to Dr Bevan, who is one of the leading experts in endocrinology in the UK.
Sr Aelred, 70, said: “In the beginning I think I was annoyed because I was busy and I knew I was coming up to the end of my time as Abess and I planned to do all the things I like but hadn’t been able to do, and I thought ‘what a nuisance’.
“It was only little by little that I admitted to myself that Dr Bevan was right. When he emailed me personally I realised I had all the symptoms.”
In its most advanced stages, acromegaly causes disfigurement and various parts of the body to grow excessively large, potentially leading to death.
But because Sr Aelred was in the early stages of the condition, changes to her appearance had gone noticed by her and those around her.
A blood test confirmed Dr Bevan’s suspicions: Sr Aelred had more than 10 times the level of growth hormone normal for someone her age.
Following the diagnosis, Sr Aelred was given surgery to remove the tumour in 2011, but levels of growth hormone in her body remained high.
The next year Sr Aelred started five weeks of radiotherapy.
She was then given monthly statin shots, which she still takes, and the growth hormone has now reduced.
Sr Aelred’s blood will probably need to be monitored for the rest of her life, but doctors hope she will stop needing treatment for the condition soon.
Last Tuesday Sr Aelred and Dr Bevan appeared on the One Show to tell the incredible story of how her condition was spotted.
The pair have remained in touch since 2010.
Sr Aelred added: “I feel immensely grateful.
“I think it’s amazing that a very busy consultant at the end of a hard day’s work would take the trouble to email the BBC. I have since got to know him and I now know what a good man he is.”
Sr Aelred said she hoped her experience could lead to more people getting themselves diagnosed.
It is estimated that just five people in a million who have the condition get diagnosed each year.
For more information about acromegaly, visit www.pituitary.org.uk