A woman running the London Marathon for her ex-boyfriend has admitted she left him because she couldn’t cope with his cancer battle.
Danielle Epstein, 32, was buying a house with Jelle Fresen in London last year when he was diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumour at just 37.
He needed a complex operation, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and had to learn to walk again.
While all this was going on physics teacher Danielle began having panic attacks and her mental health plummeted – so she ended their relationship.
She moved to Thailand but remained friends with Jelle – and is now running a marathon for a brain tumour charity.
She said she was still ‘figuring out’ her friendship with Jelle, adding: ‘I felt like the most awful person, leaving somebody because they have cancer, but it was damaging my mental health and it wasn’t helping Jelle.’
Danielle Epstein, 32, is running the London Marathon for her ex-boyfriend after admitting she left him because she couldn’t cope with his cancer battle
The couple were in the process of buying a house in Palmers Green, North London, when Jelle became ill
The couple were buying a house in Palmers Green, North London, when Jelle, who works as a Google software engineer, began vomiting and having dizzy spells.
After numerous consultations with GPs and ineffective treatments for an ear infection, the vomiting became much worse.
Jelle went for a private MRI scan using his health insurance with Google.
Doctors found a ‘grade 4 medulloblastoma’ tumour – normally a cancer that affects children – and he was booked in for surgery in September.
Danielle said: ‘We were on a certain path to a certain future and within one day we knew it wasn’t going to work out like that any more.
‘I was so worried and devastated, I couldn’t sleep or eat.
‘I was having panic attacks and was on so much medication to sort myself out I just couldn’t function.’
Realising they had to split up, she moved to Thailand with her father. But she has stayed friends with Jelle, and kept up to date with his recovery.
Following his operation Jelle had nerve damage that paralysed the right side of his face, leading to a squint that causes double-vision.
He also can’t fully close his eye and must use eye drops and ointments.
Explaining her decision to run the London Marathon in his name for Brain Tumour Research, she said: ‘I felt so helpless watching all this unfold, so I knew I had to do something.
Jelle went for a private MRI scan using his health insurance with Google, where he works as a software engineer, and doctors found he had a brain tumour
Jelle had to re-learn to walk after an operation, and also had radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat the cancer
Jelle, pictured, after his surgery, has been supportive of his ex-girlfriend’s help and will be there to cheer her on
Surgeons had to cut open the back of Jelle’s head to get to the tumour in his cerebellum
‘I’m not a runner, but Jelle has done marathons before, so I thought it would be a challenge for me and a nice tribute to him and it felt like something to aim towards.
‘I won’t be fast, but I’m determined to get round.
What is a medulloblastoma?
A medulloblastoma is a malignant brain tumour that usually affects children.
It usually occurs in the cerebellum at the back and base of the brain.
Medulloblastoma brain cancer is usually diagnosed as a grade 3 or grade 4 tumour.
It is more common in boys than girls and is very rare in adults.
The tumour can be treated with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.
It can be life-threatening if left untreated or if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
As medulloblastoma often occurs in the cerebellum, which governs motor functions, it can affect movement, balance and co-ordination.
Symptoms resulting from medulloblastoma growth can include:
Problems with walking
Increased stumbling and falling
General co-ordination issues, with increasing clumsiness
‘Training has been tough physically and mentally – just keeping going when you’re so bored is challenging.
‘But I have the best motivation; if Jelle can go through all of this then I can run a marathon.’
She added that money was needed to help brain cancer research.
She said: ‘The UK is not a developing nation; we should be scientifically innovative, but treatments haven’t changed in decades and we seem to be behind other countries and the advances they have made.
‘We desperately need more research and trials to develop better treatments.’
Jelle, who supports his ex-girlfriend’s attempt to help, said: ‘I will be there on the day to cheer Danielle on. I think it’s incredible what she’s doing.
‘When she said she was going to do a marathon, I must admit I had my doubts.
‘I think she only did about 5km when we were together and that was with a lot of complaining.
‘I’ve got so much respect for her discipline and perseverance.’
Danielle said: ‘I still love Jelle deeply and want to support him, but I came to realise I couldn’t stay with him as his partner.
‘We’re still figuring things out and finding ways to continue our relationship as friends.
‘Our whole lives came out from under us.’
Carol Robertson, national events manager for Brain Tumour Research, said: ‘We’re so sorry to hear about Jelle’s diagnosis.
‘While his tumour type is rare, brain cancer is not, with one in three people knowing somebody affected.
‘We’re very grateful to Danielle for taking on this huge challenge to help raise funds for our cause.
‘Our marathon runners are supported every step of the way, and we look forward to cheering her across the finish line.’