Brain cancer strikes a young family twice – and leaves an unexpected legacy


Tom McLeod and Sally Lloyd Stolzenhein, who both had to undergo brain surgery, pictured with their five children. Photo: supplied.

Less than a year after Sally Lloyd Stolzenhein had a brain tumor removed, her longtime partner and father of their five children, Tom McLeod, also needed urgent brain surgery, but this one resulted in an unexpected side effect.

“He and I were overwhelmed before all of this,” Ms Lloyd Stolzenhein said. “Now it’s like, what just happened?

“He was my rock, my support, the one I leaned on and I needed him to get through everyday life. Now I’m the one in the position that everyone leans on .

The young family from the far south of the coast, who live outside Bega in the rural locality of Numbugga, have suffered a series of devastating events over the past few years.

First, the Yankees Gap bushfire burned their property in 2018, then they had to evacuate when the Black Summer fires passed nearby in 2019-20.

Later, Ms Lloyd Stolzenhein started having “strange headaches” as well as noise sensitivity and panic attacks, saying it sounded like “a restlessness inside [her] to manage”.

Following scans in Canberra, she was told she had a cancerous astrocytoma tumour, which was removed in March 2021. But even today she sometimes struggles to recover.

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“Simple things like making a coffee and a piece of toast can sometimes feel like climbing Mount Everest,” she said.

During this period, Mr McLeod took time off from his job at Bega Valley Shire Council to help her and their children, aged 2 to 10.

But he had headaches all January 2022 and, 12 hours after an MRI revealed a colloid cyst in his brain, he also had to undergo surgery in Canberra.

“I really couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have time to think,” Ms. Lloyd Stolzenhein said.

A smiling man and woman

Tom McLeod and Sally Lloyd Stolzenhein have been together for 17 years. Photo: supplied.

She said that even though the cyst was not cancerous, it could stop the flow of brain fluid and if it hadn’t been removed at some point, it would be dead.

It won’t come back, she says, but due to a combination of surgery and medication, he developed organic psychosis.

“It was quite revealing,” she said, adding that as soon as she saw him after the operation, she knew he wasn’t himself.

An organic psychosis can involve delusions or hallucinations after a person’s brain has been disturbed.

Mr McLeod has stabilized over the past two weeks and appears to be “just about back to normal”, Ms Lloyd Stolzenhein said, but it will be unclear for some time whether the organic psychosis will lead to permanent change. It will need 6 to 12 months to recover.

She is unsure what will happen in the near future, but said “being together will help”.

“Watching your partner walk away from you and be taken back to the hospital where you can’t see them is more heartbreaking than you realize until you walk through them,” she said.

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Unfortunately, the end of the journey is not in sight for Mrs. Lloyd Stolzenhein herself as far as her health is concerned. She said statistics indicate that tumors like the one she had can grow back, so she has to undergo continuous scans for years to watch for its possible return.

“It’s just one of the things I have to block now because it’s getting you down too much,” she said.

Ms Lloyd Stolzenhein spoke with Region Media because she wanted to raise awareness about organic psychosis, saying they had no idea it could happen.

“Since going through this with him, I think it’s so important that anyone with mental health issues has someone to stand up for them,” she said.

She said that once their lives stabilize, they want to find a way to support people who are going through organic psychosis, like starting an information site or a support group.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by friends of Ms Lloyd Stolzenhein and Mr McLeod to help them and their family over the next six to 12 months while he recovers.


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