The couple was in the process of purchasing a house in London last year when Jelle Fresen got diagnosed with a rare cancer form of brain tumor. The 37-year-old software engineer at Google suffered vomiting and dizziness, prompting him to seek medical advice from several GPs. He got treatment for an ear infection but that did not alleviate the symptoms, and his vomiting worsened. To determine if his condition was cancer, Jelle opted for a private MRI scan that was covered by his health insurance with Google.
The scan revealed he had a grade 4 medulloblastoma tumor, a type of cancer that affects children. And as a result, he underwent surgery in September.
Jelle had to undergo complicated surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy and relearn how to walk. During this time, his girlfriend, Danielle Epstein, who worked as a physics teacher, also suffered from panic attacks and experienced a decline in her mental health due to Jelle’s health, leading her to end their relationship. The 32-year-old eventually relocated to Thailand with her father but has remained friends with the engineer.
Danielle told DailyMail: ‘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 anymore. 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 that I just couldn’t function.’ The teacher has also remained informed about Jelle’s recovery process.
Following his surgery, it’s said that Jelle experienced nerve damage that resulted in paralysis on the right side of his face, leading to a squint that causes double vision.
Additionally, he is unable to completely close his eye and must use eye drops and ointments. Danielle added that she is, however, still ‘figuring out’ her friendship with Jelle, stating: ‘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.’ Currently, she is participating in a marathon to support a brain tumor charity.
Of her decision to run the London Marathon in Jelle’s name for Brain Tumor Research, Danielle explained: ‘I felt so helpless watching all this unfold, so I knew I had to do something.’
She continued, ‘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 around. ‘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.’
Danielle admitted money was needed to help brain cancer research, insisting ‘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.’
She added: ‘We desperately need more research and trials to develop better treatments.’ Jelle, who supports his ex-GF’s attempt to help, also shared: ‘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 further confessed: ‘I still love Jelle deeply and want to support him, but I came to realize 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, the national events manager for Brain Tumor Research has also commented on Jelle’s health condition, telling DailyMail, ‘We’re so sorry to hear about Jelle’s diagnosis. While his tumor 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.’