Amanda Doolan claims Yass Show victory four years after brain surgery

Murrumbateman local Amanda Doolan made her Yass Show debut earlier this year and won the Champion District Rider accolade along with the Charles Sainsbury Perpetual Trophy.

What made Doolan's achievement truly incredible is that she did this after having a 38g cancerous tumor removed from her brain four years ago.

Perfect partners: Amanda Doolan shows the trophy to Bentley after the pair won the Champion District Rider award at the Yass Show in March. Photo: supplied

Perfect partners: Amanda Doolan shows the trophy to Bentley after the pair won the Champion District Rider award at the Yass Show in March. Photo: supplied

Throughout February and March of 2015, Doolan suffered from severe headaches and forgetfulness which she initially put down to fatigue from long work days.

However, her husband soon noted that she was becoming more forgetful, and the headaches became more constant and intense, which she likened to a hot skewer splitting her skull at its worst.

Doolan then visited her doctor and underwent a dementia test, which she passed, and got an MRI.

The scan revealed a meningioma in her frontal lobe the size of an orange.

After being referred to Dr Charlie Teo, who is regarded as one of the best neurosurgeons in Australia, Doolan quickly underwent surgery and had the tumor, along with a small portion of surrounding tissue, removed.

The most difficult aspect of the recovery for Doolan was re-training her brain to operate at a base level once again.

"I was off for four months, and it really dented my confidence," Doolan said.

"I would double-guess myself ... I had to do a lot of brain training. Your brain has to rewire and regrow those pathways, and rewire that thinking process."

Following the operation, Doolan described a "mental fog" which obfuscated her cognitive ability and made basic thought patterns difficult to follow, which was improved by brain training exercises.

"Even the simplest things were like mental gymnastics, and then they got easier and easier and easier," she said.

"Family support was critically important to my recovery."

Having returned to competitive horseriding in 2017, Doolan has spent much of the last two years trying to reconcile her recovering brain with skills she has developed her whole life.

One of the biggest keys in her recovery has been her horse, Bentley. Doolan purchased the three-year-old horse when he was only two weeks broken in, and she said that he "just felt right."

Purchasing a young horse was a risky move, as there was a metal plate in Doolan's head over the surgery site, however she said that "as soon as I met the horse, I had a really good feeling."

"He nuzzled into me and gave me a big, slobbery kiss."

Since she bought Bentley, the pair have forged a strong bond, and Doolan said "he's the best horse I've ever bought.

MRI: The scan of Doolan's brain shows the tumor (the grey spot near the top), which weighed nearly 40 grams. Photo: Supplied.

MRI: The scan of Doolan's brain shows the tumor (the grey spot near the top), which weighed nearly 40 grams. Photo: Supplied.

"He can move the house down, he's got a really good brain, [and] doesn't get spooked at anything.

"He's been my rehab horse, he's helped me get back on my feet. It's a real partnership.

After a slow and cautious recovery, Doolan described her return to competition as "very daunting". Initially, she struggled to remember the steps in her dressage tests and had to seek exemptions from Equestrian Australia so that she could have callers guide her through the tests.

Doolan's improvement has been steady since 2017, and culminated in her victory at the Yass Show and, more recently, a victory at the Bathurst Royal Show, where she won the Champion Ridden Warmblood exhibit.

However, despite all of her recent success, Doolan said that her primary goal was to send a positive message to others who are struggling with a brain cancer.

"I just want to be able to help other people, because it can be really daunting going through this whole process," she said.

"It's frightening having the diagnosis, and then post-op if you don't have the support or you don't know where to turn, just knowing that there's hope out there, that you can improve [can make a difference]."

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