I was a normal teenage girl. I loved spending with my friends, with my mobile glued to my hand. So if you’d told me I was going to get cancer, I wouldn’t have believed you. Cancer didn’t happen to people like me.
Things began to change when I started feeling extremely tired. I fell asleep early every night and could only run halfway around the athletics track in PE before my muscles hurt so much, I had to stop. “Have you been staying up too late?” Mum asked when I was too tired to get ready for school, near home in Essex. “No,” I said. “This isn’t how I’m supposed to feel.”
I was referred by my GP for a blood test, and 6 hours after the test, the hospital called saying I had to come in straightaway. I was not worried about it, but I wasn’t prepared to be told I had leukaemia. I had to ask what leukaemia was, and the doctor explained that it was a type of cancer.
It felt like a bad dream that I wanted to wake up from. To me, cancer meant sick people in hospital. “I have too much to do to have cancer!” I thought. I felt scared and angry too. Why me? But looking back now, why not me? Mum was brave, but I knew she was scared as well. The doctor explained that about the effectiveness of treatment and I was determined to stay strong.
The next day I was taken to the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit (T12) at University College Hospital London which is just for teenagers. It didn’t look or feel like a hospital ward and was more like a second home. There were computers, arts and crafts, a pool table and comfortable sofas to sit and watch TV.
I was to stay there as an inpatient for chemotherapy treatment, to destroy the cancer cells. “We know you’re scared,” said Tom, another cancer patient on the unit, “but in a couple of days, you’ll feel part of the family.” And he was right. I forgot to be scared as I was with other young people with cancer, experiencing similar treatment.
I did have side effects from chemotherapy drugs I had to take. These included an upset stomach, tiredness, blood clots and seizures. The side effect that bothered me the most was the loss of my waist length hair. To make matters worse, the steroids caused me to put on weight and my face became so swollen, I hated looking in a mirror.
Without my long hair, I didn’t even feel like a girl anymore and I couldn’t stop crying. Dad cheered me up by buying a fluffy wolf hat and was known as ‘Fluffy Girl’ whenever I wore it on the Unit. It proved to be a great confidence booster until I was fitted with a human hair wig.
Some days were tougher than others, but I have brilliant memories of my treatment on T12. There was the time when ten of my friends came to visit me in my room all at the same time. We were pretty loud and squashed and not surprisingly, encouraged to use the break out space, as only four visitors were allowed in a patient’s room!
Christmas Day 2012 on the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit was fantastic and a lot of fun, with Christmas lunch provided by the hotel nearby. When you’re not sure if you’re going to survive, you’re determined to enjoy life to the full.
Life after cancer
At the end of December 2012, I was well enough to go home. In February 2013 I was asked to officially open a new Teenage Cancer Trust outpatient unit at University College Hospital Cancer Centre alongside Sarah, Duchess of York, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Four months after I was first diagnosed, I received confirmation cancer had gone. I still have to have weekly blood tests, oral and intravenous chemotherapy treatment but this will all finish on 7 March 2015. We will have a lot to celebrate on that day as it is also my Dad’s birthday.
I am enjoying life fully again. There were moments during the initial treatment when I was low, but things are so different now. I feel happy, strong and confident. If I can deal with cancer, I can face any challenging situation. So I am fully determined to pursue a legal career and become a barrister.