Age: 17

Cancer type: ovarian cancer

I was in my second year of college and I had been experiencing what felt like a constant migraine for nearly two years. I’d been to my GP many times, and I was even referred to a neurologist. They told me everything was fine, however they found that I had some vitamin deficiencies (iron, folic acid, and b12). I took tablets for a few months, but my headaches got worse and worse.

Then my belly started to become bloated. It was so severe, people would ask me if I was pregnant, which, as a seventeen-year-old-girl, is not what you want to hear. I lost my appetite entirely, to the point where I would have a bite of a sandwich and that was all I ate for the day. I lost so much weight that my spine would rub against my chair at college, which has left permanent scars. By the time I got my diagnosis I was around 5 and a half stone, but my belly was giant.

Then one day I was at college, just like any other day, when my arm went really numb. I said to my friend, "What happens when you’re having a stroke?”  When my mum came to pick me up it went numb again, we rang the NHS helpline and they told me to go to my nearest A&E, they also thought I could be having a stroke.

By the time I was seen in A&E my arm had gone back to normal, but my mum said, "Oh whilst we’re here, could you have a look at her belly?" They made me do a pregnancy test, which obviously came back negative, so they decided to bring me in the next day for a CT scan.

I came back and waited all day until around 3 -4pm, and eventually was called in to have the scan. They did it, and the six people who were in the room looked at the screen, looked at each other, looked at me, and back to the screen. They said they wanted to repeat the scan, and I was completely oblivious as to what was going on.

The doctor came back to see me and told me that I’d get my results the next day, but they wanted to keep me in to have a blood transfusion overnight. I ended up having 4 – 6 bags transfused throughout the night.

After the doctor had left, my mum chased after him. He told her that she needed to bring my dad and any siblings along to the results appointment the next day. My mum knew then what was going on, she asked him, "has she got it?", but I was 17 and considered an adult in the NHS so he said he couldn’t confirm anything to her. She told him that she needed to know, so that she could deal with it now and be strong for the rest of us when we got the results the next day. He just nodded his head.

She went straight home and told my immediate family. The next day, they all came in for the results, and I couldn’t work out why my sister from York had travelled to come in. I remember thinking, "why are you all here? I’ll be going home later today."

Then he told me. They’d found a cancerous tumour on my ovaries. It was 23cm big. They didn’t know what type of cancer it was at this stage, so needed to send me for an ultrasound and a biopsy.

When they told me, they said, “We’ve found a cancerous tumour, do you know what that means?” . I just played ignorant. I said “No, not got a clue.” Of course I knew, but I was in so much shock, it was like I was refusing to believe it. It took a while to register, and then I just started crying.

I had been going to the GP for a year and a half with all my symptoms. They tried to tell me it was my age, and that the side effects of the tablets I was taking would cause me to bloat. It makes me really angry. There are signs all around the hospital saying "if you’ve been bloated for more than three weeks, go and seek medical help", but my GP didn’t think to test me for that. Out of the five most common symptoms for ovarian cancer, I had four of them.

I was in Rotherham hospital for a week and then I was moved to Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield, where there’s a Teenage Cancer Trust unit. I was there for a few days, where I met my consultant, and she told me that I had stage 4 ovarian germ cell cancer.

As soon as I walked onto the Teenage Cancer Trust unit it was so much better than a normal hospital ward. At Rotherham I’d been the youngest on the ward by 20 years, and even though I had a private room, there was nothing in it really. When I went onto the Teenage Cancer Trust unit I was shown my room, and I was actually quite excited! I loved that I could have a TV, that I could have a shower without someone having to be there with me, and I could regain a bit of my independence.

I was there for around three weeks, but I didn’t really leave my room for that time, because I was recovering from my operation and it hurt to walk. I’ve always called it ‘my bedroom’, not ‘the hospital room’, and I think that sums up exactly how comfortable I felt on the unit. 

I met Shona, the Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse straight away as soon as I arrived. She stayed to welcome me onto the unit, even though it was 7pm and no one else was around. When I was at home she would visit me at my house to come and change my picc line, she’d stay for a cuppa and chat to me about how I was doing. It was so nice because it meant I didn’t have to go to the hospital every week. And if I wanted anything arranging for the next time I was in, she could do it for me – like coming in for my chemo at 3pm instead of 12pm so that I could plan to do stuff with my friends.

It was nice for my mum as well, who could chat to her during the home visits. For me, Shona was like a nurse / councillor / everything I could want. 

I had six cycles of chemo for 3 – 4 months, and now I’ve finished treatment. There was another boy called Brad who was always in at the same time as me. He had a similar diagnosis to me, so he had the same chemo and we had the same consultant. We would sit and compare which side effects we’d had – he was a cycle ahead of me, so he would tell me what he’d experienced so I knew what to expect. Nine times out of ten I would have the same side effects! We used to have takeaways together on Friday and Saturday nights. It was so nice to have someone a similar age to talk to.

After my chemo, my tumour shrunk from 23 to 10 cm, meaning it was small enough to operate on, and in August 2016 I had my right ovary removed. Now I have check-ups every few months. I have a few after effects of the chemo, but it’s better than still having cancer.

I went back to college in September 2016, so I only really had a couple of months out of school. All my friends had gone off to university, which was hard, but I met a couple of people in my classes who I got on well with. I sat my exams, and got a distinction* in Health and Social Care BTEC, and I got a B and a C in Religious Studies and Geography. I’m going to Sheffield Hallam University in September to study Human Geography! I’m nervous, but really excited.

Help us provide specialist nursing support to every young person with cancer like Caitlin, please donate today.