Tuesday 4th February 2020
I had to fight to get a diagnosis.
Originally I thought the diagnosis I was fighting for would be a cyst, or perhaps some relatively normal swelling. Frustratingly, I did end up being wrong, but it didn’t affect me like people would expect it to.
I had gone to two different doctors, after the first had told me it was fine, but to come back in 6 weeks if it were still there. When I saw the second doctor, she sent me for my first set of tests. I had an ultrasound and was referred to my soon-to-be surgeon to discuss the results. She said there was unexplained swelling and that she wanted to do a biopsy to find out why. We opted to have the lymph node removed, as this meant it could be continuously tested on without me having to return to the hospital.
After this was done, I was given an appointment a few weeks later to discuss results. However, I was called in early. I came in to see Olena (my surgeon) and was also greeted by a doctor who had come over from China, my oncology nurse. Olena explained I had Metastatic Thyroid Cancer and that I’d need another operation, radioiodine, and potentially radiotherapy. The operation was booked for 3 weeks’ time and meant to last 3 hours, but it ended up lasting 9 hours due to the cancer becoming aggressive and spreading further. I’d also caught pneumonia which wasn’t pleasant.
Throughout my treatments, it was almost like I was in a daze and would just do what was asked of me in order to help myself become healthy. If you have flu, you are prescribed medication and you take it. Similarly, I was given surgeries and different types of radiotherapies, and I just did it.
I don’t think I really accepted what was happening to me for a long time, and always thought it was strange for people to react the way they did.
I’d explain I had cancer and they’d congratulate me for being so brave, and I can only explain the feeling as somebody calling you brave for dealing with a papercut. “You’re so strong, my cousin had a papercut.. they’re really painful!” It sounds odd doesn’t it?
My radiotherapy is the only time I began to struggle, but even then I was having difficulty seeing the ‘bravery’, which astounds me looking back. I had second degree burns inside and outside of my neck, lost all the enamel on my teeth, and my hair began to fall out. Due to the burns, I ate less and less and eventually had trouble drinking, which led to a 6-ish stone weight loss from 21 stone pre-surgery to around 15 stone. I was losing a stone a week and was eventually forced to use a wheelchair as my legs no longer had the strength to carry me. It was when I was having help getting dressed to go for a trip down the beach (which I had been bugging my mum for days about) that I realised my clothes didn’t even fit anymore. Shorts that used to be skin tight were now baggy and falling off me.
My diagnosis did eventually ‘hit me’ as it were, but it took an incredibly long time and was when I had hit my limit. I remember laying on my bed, weak and malnourished from treatments and having not eaten for weeks, and I was speaking with my older sister who had come up to Wales from London to help support us all.
I remember feeling like a broken shell, and had suddenly realised I didn’t have a say in my life anymore. It was all just following orders.
Going to appointment after appointment, scan after scan, session after session. I didn’t really leave the house for any other reason, and I didn’t want to carry on that way.
I’d started to lose hope and remembered asking my sister if I could just stop. No more appointments, no more treatment.
I was vomiting every 15-30 minutes and slept through most of the day, and it took me at least an hour to take all my medication. She told me that wasn’t an option, but I was so low at this point of my treatment. I asked my oncologist on multiple occasions, I asked radiologists, I asked my consultant, physiotherapist, speech therapist, dietician.
Nobody let me quit, and I remember hating them all so much for it, but now, 1 year in remission, I am so grateful to all of them.
Even after my treatments I am still battling with my confidence and the after effects of my treatment still take their toll on me, but the support I receive from Teenage Cancer Trust staff makes such an enormous difference to my life. Their support sessions make me feel less alone and mean I have found friends my age who know what I went through. We are able to understand each other, because we’ve all been there.
Katie appears in our World Cancer Day 2020 video. Watch the video and find out more on our World Cancer Day landing page.