In May 2017, I started to notice a couple of lumps on the side of my neck, and my boyfriend said that I should get them checked out. I went to see a doctor, but she said that they were just cysts and to ignore them. Between May and August, more lumps came up and the biggest one was the size of half a golf ball sticking out of my neck.
Again, the doctors told me to ignore them unless they started to hurt. One was pressing against my skull and it became so painful, so I went back to the doctors again. They suggested that it was drained but when he looked at it, he said, "this is not a cyst."
I was sent to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist at Bristol Royal Infirmary and they referred me to the Oncology Department.
At the time, I didn't know that oncology meant tumours. I was very blasé about my health and kept thinking 'I will be fine'.
I had a needle biopsy and they could immediately tell that there was something wrong. I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma but when they told me, I still didn't realise it was cancer. It was all really mad and happened really fast, but I was looked after so well.
My consultant, Dr Furness, talked me through my diagnosis and explained that lymphoblastic lymphoma is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many of one type of white blood cells. I was then introduced to Louisa, a specialist nurse from Teenage Cancer Trust. She talked in detail about a clinical trial of chemotherapy that I could be involved in where I could have a slightly increased dosage for some rounds of chemo and some different drugs.
I decided to go for it, both because it was potentially a better form of treatment and I liked that I was helping with the research.
I started the treatment a couple of days later and I have now completed four phases of intensive chemo. I've had methotrexate, cytarabine, cyclophosphamide, and vincristine. Louisa comes and checks on me every week and answers any questions I have about the treatment.
It's nice having a dedicated nurse as I've been able to build up more of a relationship with her. If you are having a bad day, it's great to have someone there that you know who can pick you up. The nurses are all so lovely, it's not just about your treatment but making sure you are mentally okay as well as physically okay.
The Youth Support Coordinator, Hannah, is brilliant as well. She organises lots of different events to keep us entertained and I've done bag making and picture frame painting. I've also been to a Look Good Feel Better workshop which helps you feel good about your changed experience. As a young woman, the whole hair loss thing is terrifying. I've still not gotten used to it, but I have a big range of wigs and I like looking a little eccentric. I had natural long blonde hair, which has all fallen out, but now I can wake up and think 'I want pink curly hair today or a rainbow wig today'. It's been really fun matching my hair colour to my clothes and going a bit mad with it.
Being on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit is fantastic too. I had my own room with a private bathroom, which made such a difference. I spent some time on an adult ward with a communal bathroom and, when I was sick, I had to go to the bathroom to vomit with three elderly women around me waiting to use it. When I was sick while having a private bathroom, I didn't feel embarrassed or like I had to rush. My room was so big as well, I was able to have a few friends sleeping over at a time. Being stuck in a dreary hospital doesn't help your mood, so being able to decorate my room with fairy lights and pictures really lifted my spirits and made it feel more like home.
The day room on the unit was great too. You can put music on and chill out. My friends and I would go in the TV room and order a pizza and put a film on or play a game of pool. It's really homely so you don't feel like you are in a hospital. There's also a fridge and a microwave, which is a lifesaver as you can have your own food and not rely on hospital food.
I would say to anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, don't be too scared. There are so many amazing people and organisations to help you through.
When you first get a diagnosis, your mind blows up and you can't focus on everything going on. But everyone has been amazing and all of the support I have received has been brilliant.