Carolyn Nicholls learned about The National Brain Appeal after being treated at The National Hospital for a cavernoma. She contributed to our art exhibition, A Letter In Mind, after turning to painting after her illness.

“Still got all your marbles?” Mr Kitchen asked me, smiling, just before I went home after surgery. “I think so.” I said, but I knew those marbles were rolling around a bit.

Seven years previously I’d had a brain haemorrhage. Ten days of stonking headaches was followed by a sudden inability to read. My book turned into a foreign language right before my eyes. I was hospitalised but scans and a cerebral angiogram revealed nothing. I was told to go home and forget about it. It took six months to read fluently again. Four years later, I bled again, and again two years after that.

My story is typical of an active cavernoma; strange knots of blood vessel in your brain that can bleed and cause mayhem. Googling the word ‘cavernoma’, I found the Cavernoma Alliance UK (CAUK), who suggested The National Hospital.

When I came for my appointment, I met with my surgeon Mr Kitchen, and I immediately felt confident and comfortable. He was straightforward, friendly and put my mind at ease about possible genetic issues affecting my children. He said, “Yes, we’d better get this out,” and set a date in May.

It wasn’t straightforward, which made me nervous − my cavernoma sat on my speech centre close to a big vein. In the month before surgery I was dizzy, constantly nauseous and the pressure in my head was terrible.

The National Hospital was wonderful. Everyone was friendly and supportive. My children came with me right to the theatre doors and my daughter held my hand as I went to sleep. The surgery held risks but when I came round the anaesthetist was smiling at me. “Oh, hello Sarah,” I said, and I knew everything would be all right. I wanted to kiss her!

However, it wasn’t a smooth path, and I did struggle. I could read, but only one word at a time, I couldn’t sequence them and extract the sense. I’d recently completed an MA in creative writing and was sending my novel to agents. But I kept losing my own plot! My spelling was appalling, I couldn’t tell ‘b’ from ‘p’ and I found it difficult to concentrate. I knew my brain was bruised and needed rest so I turned to painting.


My road to recovery

I painted in my garden, even in the rain, letting the drops blur my work. I explored new mediums, pastels, acrylic inks, and wax. I painted in silence, enjoying the swish of my brush in the water. I painted for pure enjoyment and didn’t try and make anything beautiful − I just painted.

I heard about The National Brain Appeal’s fundraising art exhibition, A Letter in Mind, so decided I donate a drawing of my brain (as I saw it!). I made it along to the private view evening, and was so thrilled when it sold.

My recovery was hard work, I was utterly exhausted a lot of the time, the scar on my head was painful and I still had headaches. Painting was my lifeline, it cheered my brain up. I made a book of my work to raise funds for both the National Brain Appeal and CAUK.

It’s now six months since I had surgery and I feel well. I’m working part time, and still painting. I can read again and I’ve just had a novel nominated in a big competition. Thank you National Hospital for being there when I most needed you.

Carolyn Nicholls, 63, from East Sussex

Buy Carolyn’s fundraising e-book My Healing Journey at

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