Central Queensland nurse determined to finish studies to help others, despite brain tumour diagnosis

Central Queensland nurse determined to finish studies to help others, despite brain tumour diagnosis
  • PublishedDecember 18, 2023

“I pulled off the road and I sat there … it was so bad, I honestly felt like I was going to die,” she said.

“[It was] massive, really sudden, insane … like a brain freeze you get from eating ice cream but 10 times worse.”

Ms Pretorius, from Gracemere in central Queensland, said the “thunderclap” headache eventually eased and she called a health hotline.

They advised her to monitor her symptoms and see a GP but she felt something more serious was wrong and went to the local hospital.

After scans, she was flown to Brisbane where it was confirmed she had a brain tumour.

Weeks of intense headaches and some vision loss followed before an operation to remove the tumour, which was thankfully found to be non-malignant.

A woman in a graduation gown smiling and holding a diploma, next to another woman smiling in front of a university banner.
Ms Pretorius (left) says she was able to complete her diploma thanks to support from friends, family and her CQUniversity teacher Rachael Legros.(Supplied: CQ University)

According to the Brain Tumour Alliance of Australia [BTAA], 1,900 Australians are diagnosed with malignant brain tumours each year.

The body’s chair, Craig Cardinal, said “trusting your body’s intuition” was important.

“We know our bodies and it’s important that we just continue to push until we feel we get the attention that we need,” Mr Cardinal said.

‘I wanted to help’

Despite her ordeal, Ms Pretorius was determined to finish the last year of her nursing diploma to achieve her lifelong dream of becoming a health worker.

She called her CQUniversity teacher, who told her if she finished the assessments by November, she could still graduate in December this year instead of 12 months later.

Before her first operation, she got to work finishing assignments.

“It was pretty hard but I’m a very stubborn person … it was really important for me to finish,” she said.

After her first procedure, however, hurdles remained when she developed a cerebral fluid leak.

She underwent a second operation while also suffering from COVID and thanks to support from her family, friends and the university she was able to get through residential schools and graduate in time for Christmas.

Ms Pretorius wanted to follow in the footsteps of other family members and enter the medical field but said she never had the opportunity.

“I never had the right subjects in school, I never had the money. There was always something,” she said.

A blonde woman in a black dress smiling next to a railing in front of trees.
Ms Pretorius says she would like to continue her studies to become a registered nurse.(ABC Capricornia: Katrina Beavan)

Moving to central Queensland in 2011, the mum of two saw a chance to follow her dream and did some courses to enter the aged care industry.

“That feeling of helping someone who can’t help themselves, I just felt like, ‘This is it. I’ve finally found what I’m meant to do’,” she said.

“I wanted to help people.”

More awareness needed

According to Mr Cardinal, 1,500 Australians die from brain cancer each year, though non-cancerous brain tumours can also be quite serious and cause long-term effects. 

“As far as impact to society, brain tumours have the highest cost burden for any disease in Australia,” he said.

Ms Pretorius is grateful her tumour was benign, though only 95 per cent of it was able to be removed, as it was sitting on her optical nerve.

For now, she is having six-monthly MRIs to ensure the tumour doesn’t grow back and said losing her sense of smell was a small price to pay for better health.

“I’m really, really fortunate with how things have ended for me,” she said.

She said she eventually would like to continue her studies to become a registered nurse.


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