Motherwell schoolgirl who had three brain surgeries fundraising for cancer research

Kara McInally with mum Laura
-Credit: (Image: Lesley Martin/Cancer Research UK)

A brave Motherwell schoolgirl, who had three brain surgeries before the age of nine, is now raising money in a bid to help others battling cancer.

Kara McInally began suffering from mild but frequent headaches before Christmas in 2021. Concerned mum Laura took her to the optician for an eye test, where it was discovered that Kara's optic nerve was swollen.

She was quickly referred to University Hospital Hairmyres in East Kilbride. After medical staff carried out scans they identified a growth behind her skull, reports the Record.

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The schoolgirl was transferred to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, where she had her first surgery just four days later to remove a 4cm tumour from her brain.

Kara recovered from the procedure well, but the family faced an agonising wait over the festive period for test results. On January 10, 2022, doctors confirmed it was cancer and Kara was diagnosed with a grade three anaplastic ependymoma tumour.

Recounting her daughter's shock diagnosis, mum Laura said: “It was the worst feeling in the world when Kara was diagnosed with cancer." The following month, Kara and her family travelled to Manchester for seven weeks so she could receive proton beam therapy.

Kara McInally before proton beam therapy
Kara McInally before proton beam therapy -Credit: Lesley Martin/Cancer Research UK

This type of radiotherapy was advised as it can minimise side effects for patients by reducing damage to developing or sensitive organs. But for mum-of-two Laura, who travelled to Manchester with Kara, it meant weeks away from her younger daughter Khloe - who was only a baby. The treatment was followed by four gruelling months of chemotherapy in Glasgow.

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The family hoped to have put the worst behind them but they were hit with another blow in November 2022 when tests showed the tumour had grown back and Kara faced brain surgery for a second time.

Laura said: “We felt completely blindsided the day her oncologist told us her MRI showed possible recurrence and surgery was the only option. It felt like we were being thrown back a year but once again we had to trust in the surgeon’s words when he told us that, ‘I’ll take care of her.’ We were fortunate to have the best medical team.”

The operation was a success. Several months later in spring 2023, Kara went into theatre again and endured a third surgery as it was suspected the tumour had returned.

However, it was a huge relief when biopsy tests showed there was only scar tissue. By June 2023, her parents received the phone call they’d been praying for, no more treatment or surgery was needed as Kara was cancer-free.

Following the girl's brave battle and to mark a year of being in remission, Kara plans to take part in Pretty Muddy Kids to raise funds for others suffering from the disease. She will take part in the 5k obstacle course at Strathclyde Country Park on Saturday, June 15, where she will be joined by a team of her pals from Ladywell Primary School who supported her through her journey.

Laura said: "Kara’s strength, resilience and love for life kept us going through the darkest of days and I’m so proud of her. Sometimes real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting really big battles. Kara was supported by her friends throughout, ensuring she was never alone in her fight.

"They have always stuck by her. When we went to Manchester for seven weeks of Kara’s treatment some of them would write to her, they’d facetime her. We were 250 miles away from home but they’d still work hard to keep her company."

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She added: “Kara is enjoying school, loves all her hobbies, is very active, full of energy and has been helped by her friends to get her confidence back. Now is the right time for her to join her squad of besties out there in the mud to support this amazingly worthwhile charity, help other people going through cancer and also have lots of fun doing it.”

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK’s spokeswoman in Scotland, said: “We are grateful to Kara and family for their support. We’d also like to say a giant thank you to Kara’s friends. We’d love for as many people as possible across Scotland to get muddy to help raise funds for life-saving research this June.

"Our Pretty Muddy obstacles are designed to be fun and believe us they are. Pretty Muddy is not about coming first, it’s about having fun, it’s all about acting like a big kid again. No matter how cancer affects us, life is worth racing for. Race for Life and Pretty Muddy have the power not only to transform lives, but to save them.”

Kara’s family set up an Instagram account @sassy_wee_lassie to follow her cancer journey including regular updates and photos. They have words of wisdom for the parents of any child going through cancer right now.

Laura said: “Take one day at a time and try if you can to focus on the next step in front of you, not the entire staircase. It is too easy to start thinking negative thoughts or to think too far ahead. Reach out to other families going through the same thing. They’re a wealth of knowledge and understand what you’re going through.”