"I had been visiting the doctors for a year with different symptoms before I got my diagnosis. I’d experienced scabbing on my skin, pains in my chest, and then I found a pea sized lump under my armpit. They told me that it was a hormone imbalance and to wear a sports bra, but after the lump grew to the size of a golf ball, the doctor referred me for an ultrasound and a biopsy on my armpit.
Two weeks after the biopsy they told me I had Hodgkin lymphoma. At first I was relieved – I thought that meant it was just an infection.
It was when they said the word ‘cancer’ that it hit me. I felt numb.
My mum was sitting behind me and I could hear her trying to catch her breath and hold back her tears. There was a junior doctor in the room who started crying, and said they wouldn't wish it on anyone.
At this point I felt worried, worried that I would have to miss time from my college course or even worse, be unable to go back.
As strange as it sounds, in some ways I didn't feel strong emotions. It was a whirlwind and I didn’t really have time to think during all the scans and the discussions about treatment.
My family, friends, colleagues and my previous partners' family all gave me love and support, and encouraged me to live life as normally as I possibly could.
My partner at the time’s sister had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma 10 years before me, so it was nice to have someone to talk about it with.
Above all, my mum was my rock, she’ll never understand how grateful for her I am.
My grandparents were also a massive part of my experience, making everything much more bearable.
I had a chemotherapy treatment called Escalated BEACOPP. It’s an intense treatment that reduces the risk of having a relapse, and was recommended to me by my consultant. There were drawbacks though, such as needing various transfusions, and reducing my chances of having children. I had experienced various side effects from the chemo, such as hair loss, sickness, tiredness, hot flushes and my skin changing colour.
I was treated on C9, the Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge. The environment and atmosphere on the unit meant it didn’t feel like a hospital ward! It became my second home. I got involved with all sorts of activities, including arts and crafts, a Look Good Feel Better event, and even a Lush workshop where we learned how to make bath bombs. For me, the place to be on the unit was the games room. We had a pool table, arts and crafts, DVDs, a Wii, PlayStation, and our own Jukebox!
Being in that room allowed me to escape the reality of being in a hospital, undergoing treatment and being diagnosed with cancer.
My Youth Support Coordinator Amy couldn’t have done enough for me. She was always asking if I was OK and if there was anything she could do to make me feel more at ease. She really encouraged me to get involved with the activities, and without that encouragement I think I would have been less likely to interact with the others. But I’m so glad I did, because they were going through the same thing, so we shared our experiences, vented about our treatment and gave each other support.
My family have done lots of fundraising for Teenage Cancer Trust, especially my Aunt. Last year she made Christmas puddings for the local community, asking for a small donation in return, and she raised £250.
Now it’s been a year since I was officially diagnosed. I went back to college and finished my course in Health and Social Care – gaining the equivalent of AAA at A-level! They had wanted me to take a gap year, but I wanted to continue, and I’m so proud that I was able to accomplish this at such an awful time in my life. Becoming a nurse has always been an ambition of mine, and I accepted an offer from Canterbury Christ Church University to study Adult Nursing! I’m thinking about specialising in oncology or haematology.
To someone going through cancer, I would say that it does get better. My best advice would be to sometimes let yourself act like you don’t have cancer – spend time with your friends, go out and enjoy yourself! Sometimes I’d wake up and not recognise myself in the mirror because of the way treatment changed my appearance, so try and remember that you are the same person, only stronger! Remember it's ok to cry, talk to yourself, express to others how you're feeling. It will get better.