Wednesday 16th November 2016
"I remember not knowing how to feel when I was told I had bone cancer at age 14 – I just felt numb. It was like I was stood still in time with everyone else rushing on by. I had to give myself over to the NHS and trust them with my body because there was nothing I could do myself to get rid of the cancer.
I was lucky to have been diagnosed in the first stage of bone cancer, most people don't get their diagnosis until the second or third stage. I had 3 cycles of chemotherapy and then had my limb salvage surgery where my knee and large portion of my femur was removed along with thigh muscle. This was then replaced with titanium. I had a long road ahead of me of intensive physiotherapy rehab as well as chemotherapy. I was so so tired and the rehab made things much harder.
The units were specifically built by Teenage Cancer Trust with teens and young adults in mind.
I was treated on the Young Oncology Unit (YOU) at The Christie Hospital Manchester. The nurses were specially trained to staff these wards – it takes a special person to do their job. We had a TV of our own and games console with hundreds of games to choose from, there was a retreat room where we could go and socialise adult free and talk openly, and there were games consoles, a pool table, music instruments, arts and crafts. There were even organised events like pizza nights, football and movie nights. The layout was far more cosy than a typical hospital and had an area for parents. Thankfully, as I was so young, my Mum got to stay the whole time and so did my Grandma, when she helped with care. The environment which I was treated in was as relaxing and non-hospital like as possible, which put a lot of us at ease. We were a group together, helping each other.
I had so many positive experiences with the Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator. She shaved my hair when it first started to come out; I didn't want to see it so she quickly put a bandana on to hide my head. She did it with such kindness, which meant the world to me. We went on many trips and she brought celebs around to see us (footballers, TV stars etc.). She was fun, kind, helpful, caring, empathetic and just amazing at her job. Because of the hair loss, I think my low self-esteem was contributing to making me depressed and suicidal, but she helped take my mind off these things. It helped with my mental health considerably.
One of the most amazing events I attended was Find Your Sense of Tumour with Teenage Cancer Trust - I'll never forget how normal I felt. My self-esteem was helped massively and I even sang for the Manchester showcase. I met some beautifully amazing people (some have since earned their wings). I learned to love myself and my scars, I learned I was a warrior, a member of 'The Lost Tribe' and was so empowered. It helped me start to mourn the loss of the old me and to start the journey in embracing the new me.
Speaking this year at the 1st Global Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Congress is going to be one of the biggest accomplishments in my life.
I am so very passionate that young people are at the forefront of research funding. Adolescence is such a complex developmental time in life; it's when we are moulded by experiences into the adults we eventually become. Having cancer is not normal at any age, but this age group in particular is defined by very significant and complex needs making the cancer journey very different to that of an adult.
I have the chance to be able to speak out, from experience, about what young people need as a group, to remind us all of the complexities we face with growing up, things like psychological and emotional issues in relationships (social and sexual), navigating education in a world that has very little understanding of how complex and widespread conditions we face as survivors, facing discrimination in many capacities. It's hard and I am still sad about my experience. I am scarred so deeply it’ll never completely heal. People need to know this and I have the chance to share these feelings and issues to the people who will hopefully make a difference. I hope to bring an honest, relatable side to this conference, to remind attendees of who they are working/researching for, and what a positive difference they actually make in the lives of young people."