Angelicus was a young man treated on our unit at University College Hospital in London. He was invited to speak at our Find Your Sense of Tumour conference. Angelicus knew he was dying but hoped his words would help and inspire young people like him. Angelicus died three weeks before the conference but the speech was delivered in his memory. It inspired every single person there and received a standing ovation.
"The way I see it is that most teenagers and adults find it very hard to talk about cancer or their nasty experiences. Hell, who would blame them?
We have different lives and we all should appreciate that. It just so happens that I don’t mind talking about my illness and if I can help someone along the way, that’s great.
So what am I all about? My name is Angelicus and I'm 21 years old. I come from Zimbabwe and in 1999 a tumour started to grow in my leg and the following year I was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma. That all seems like a long time ago to me!
After my diagnosis my life started changing. At first the treatment was horrid – but I slowly got used to it. I experienced changes when I finished my first course of chemo. For the last year my knee had been growing a tumour and it had got to the stage where I could not walk.
What amazed me after the first course of chemo was the swelling gradually going down and I started to walk again. I could actually stretch my leg out and the best thing was the pain had been taken away and that meant that I could sleep well at night – although there was a bit of sickness – but at the time that just didn’t matter because the pain was gone.
I got used to cancer and started to cope with the disease and its treatment – but deep down no one wants to go through life with that.
I know that if a person changes physically it is very hard to change their life. Like my life – it has changed from a boy with both legs to an amputee – but I’m not upset about this and I’ll tell you why...
Firstly, I am not the first one to go through this. When my doctor told me that I would have to have an amputation I knew that it was helping me. By cutting off my leg they were taking away the tumour and the pain – and I was pretty happy about that – and at the end of the day there was no way that I was going to be able to change the fact that I had cancer.
I don’t know how it started or why – and I certainly didn’t know how to get rid of it – and so all I could do was deal with it and work with the doctors who could help me.
My life was changing everyday – and in those days I was learning a lot from the other teenagers around me at the Middlesex unit in London. I have watched a lot of patients deal with cancer in different ways – a lot of people dwell on one issue – I would sit there and see that time was still moving on and not waiting for them.
My friend Michelle
Most people end up getting stressed out over something that they just can’t change. I learnt the most from a young girl who became a very good friend of mine – her name is Michelle. Michelle was also an amputee.
Going through an amputation isn’t easy for anyone – and at first I found it really hard to think about not having one of my legs – but I was determined to find a way to deal with all of my fear.
At that time there was no one else on the unit who was being treated for a leg amputation – but then I met Michelle who had had her arm amputated and she took the time to talk to me. Michelle showed me that there was light at the end of my tunnel – and she took me out of my hell. For the whole of that week before my amputation I managed to ask her everything I needed to know – she really was so helpful and caring to me.
To me I see her as a counsellor and a best friend. Even to this day I still follow her ways of living – and it is helping me to cope with my present disease.
Michelle lived her life to the fullest – and she was never worried about tomorrow. She always wanted to know the truth about her problems from the doctors – and she seemed to cope with anything, from deciding what top to wear in the morning to being told that she had not responded so well to treatment.
What I know now is that I can’t stop living because my doctor and cancer told me so. I make plans for everyday of my life. For example, last April I was told what every person dreads to hear – that my disease had progressed and I was not responding to treatment. I wanted to know the truth – and asked my doctor how long he thought I had to live – and he said six months – that was a year ago.
OK, there have been a few problems along the way – but I wasn’t prepared to just sit around and wait to die. So I started to make plans. I went back home to Zimbabwe to see my brothers and friends – and had a great time laughing and relaxing. Then in December I went to America with my aunt.
I try to be strong and not to think too much about previous problems. Sometimes I look at it as protecting myself. What I know is that I have so many problems coming every day of my life that I have accepted that this is the way my life is now.
Most of the time I try to forget about a problem whenever I am not dealing with it. I started my treatment such along time ago that I am now comfortable with it.
Sometimes I think that cancer is a funny thing. If I let it dictate my life then I would have spent the last year lying down in my room waiting for the day to be sick.
One day in hospital Michelle told me what she wanted to do in her life and how she was going to become a lawyer. At first I couldn’t believe her and I thought she was ignoring her disease. But I now see it as her way of teaching me to be strong and to be positive. And so during my treatment I finished my two years at College doing Accountancy. I also managed to hold down a part time job and to take part in the British disabled sporting events. It was a tough few years of going in and out of hospital – and at times I didn’t think I was going to complete my exams – but I did. And to me that is amazing. I think of Michelle and thank her for making me so strong and helping me to build up a positive mind.
Hope is not something we should drop or forget about. Those who are told to have more treatment – or like me cannot be treated – doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. My situation has just changed – and this is now the beginning of me fighting for my life. At night I do not think that the next day will be bad – but instead that I will make it better.
Family are important. Even though at times they can drive you mad, we must always let them in to help and learn to rely on them – as that is what family is for. My family care and love for me so much, they make me laugh and treat me like the Angelicus I have always been – which is something that not everyone can do – and this is a huge comfort to me.
The advice that Michelle shared with me and I want to share with you is:
- Try not to worry too much, especially about things that aren’t always so serious.
- Try and not to take everything so seriously – the more you think it is serious, the more it eats you up inside.
- Don’t think about it all at the same time – deal with things a little bit at a time.
- And if you ever feel really sick, don’t ever think that you’re going to die – but think that you will be ok.
- And remember to keep laughing – don’t let a disease take over everything in your life – you still have control of a lot of things.
We all have different families. At this moment I want to talk about a family that has been caring a lot for me. It was Teenage Cancer Trust who was interested in my needs and made them real. I am suffering from a terrible disease and am in a lot of pain but all is good because of the comfort and attention they give me.
I know that Teenage Cancer Trust have done a lot for me which I can’t begin to put into words but I want you all to know that this is most appreciated by me. It’s not only me who has been helped by them but a lot of teenagers have. I’ve had so much fun over the past three years, besides the fact that I have an illness I see myself as someone who is privileged".
Charlotte was 21 and studying law at Leeds University when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Watch Charlotte's moving story and help us support other young people just like her.
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With your help, every young person with cancer, like Angelicus, can be treated by experts for their age group, alongside other young people, in an environment designed especially for them.
This will be a tremendous achievement and it will be thanks to you. We rely on donations to fund what we do so it’s only through your support that our work is possible.
Will you help us to continue to transform the lives of young people with cancer?
Since Angelicus died we’ve opened 11 more Teenage Cancer Trust units throughout the UK, making a total of 17. But there’s still more to do.
Half of the young people with cancer in the UK do not yet have access to one of our units. Far too often they’re isolated on adult or children’s wards, alongside elderly people or babies. Treatment can last months and not being with other young people they can identify with can have devastating emotional effects and hinder their ability to fight the disease.
This year we completed 3 new units at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Birmingham, the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in Surrey and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Read more about our state-of-the-art facilities...
How your donation could help...
could pay for a bed for the night for mum, dad or partner to stay with a young person on the unit, so that loved ones are close through this traumatic time.
£25... could pay for or a complementary therapy session to help young people recover from the stress of treatment.
£50... could pay for on-ward activities because young patients can be on the unit for months at a time.
£250... could bring the families of young people with cancer or bereaved families together to support one another so they do not feel so isolated.