Simone Giertz: 'Why I sent my brain tumour to Antarctica'

Simone Giertz's brain tumour 'Brian' in Antarctica Image copyright Ariel Waldman
Image caption Simone Giertz's brain tumour 'Brian' in Antarctica

On 4 February, YouTuber Simone Giertz posted a photo on Instagram that surprised and delighted her followers in equal measure.

"You know what this is?" the 28-year-old wrote in a post liked almost 36,000 times. "You see that iceberg in the back? That's Antarctica. And that pink thing on the left? That is my brain tumour."

As her 1.5 million YouTube subscribers are well aware, last year Simone was diagnosed with a non-cancerous brain tumour and underwent surgery to have most of it removed. What most people did not know, however, is that she'd taken it home with her.

"I wanted to send my brain tumour to the most remote location in the world," she told BBC News.

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'The queen of bad robots'

Image copyright Simone Giertz
Image caption Simone Giertz 'the queen of bad robots'

Originally from Sweden, but now living in San Francisco, the inventor made her name on YouTube by creating madcap machines that appear to help with everyday tasks from applying lipstick to eating breakfast.

The devices, which have a Wallace and Gromit feel to them, usually end up making a spectacular mess. She accordingly dubbed herself "the queen of bad robots, mistress of malfunctions and the mother of terrible inventions".

Since her first video of a "bad robot" in 2015, her YouTube channel has amassed more than 1.5 million subscribers.

In April 2018 she published a video, one that was very different from her usual offerings.

In a vlog peppered with stoical jokes, she shared the news with her fans that she had been diagnosed with a benign meningioma "the size of a golf ball" that needed to be removed with brain surgery.

"Sorry that I am joking about this stuff but this is really the only way I know how to deal with this," she says.

Her humorous attitude continued, and soon after the diagnosis she christened her tumour Brian.

"It was the wittiest I could be when I was very sad and also it's an anagram of brain."

Does seeing the funny side of such a difficult experience take its toll?

"It's both a pro and a con," she reflects. "Sometimes I feel like I'm not allowing myself to take this situation seriously as I always need to be first to the joke, but it has also been nice to find funny moments."

'It felt like a marathon I hadn't signed up for'

After the brain surgery, Simone was looking forward to getting back to normal.

However, in January this year she was told a piece of the tumour left in her brain - that had been too dangerous to remove - had started growing again and she is now undergoing radiotherapy.

"I was sadder than I anticipated," she remembers. "Mostly because I had been just really excited about being able to work and I had all these grand plans for 2019, after 2018 got eaten by Brian.

"I was really sad because it was everything coming back when I felt so done with it. It felt like a marathon that I hadn't trained for or signed up for, and I'm kind of like jogging my way through it and sighing a lot."

"I just keep telling myself that whilst this is something that might look like a bad thing it doesn't necessarily mean that it is. "

To the ends of the earth

Simone had been due to travel to Antarctica to film a documentary in 2018 but her health issues meant she could no longer go. As luck would have it her friend Ariel Waldman, was travelling there to study tiny creatures called Tardigrades and asked Simone if there was anything she could take for her.

Simone knew exactly what she wanted.

"I thought it was cute and a touching idea," remembers Ariel. "On a a four-hour solo hike around the face of Canada Glacier, I got inspired by the blue of the glacier contrasted with the pink of the brain tumour."

For Simone there was a certain poetic justice in the journey: "I thought if I can't go myself then it's only fair if the thing that's preventing me from being there gets to go," she said. "With this whole ordeal, having to find funny and quirky little upsides to it has helped a lot.

"I don't have to be brain-tumour-girl," she says. "I can be the girl who sent her brain tumour to Antarctica."