Age: 17

Cancer type: bone cancer

I was 17 years old and I still remember the date – January 2nd. You never forget the date you are told news like that.

It is very hard to describe that moment when you are told. I was mortified and scared. It is the very worst news. When you are a teenager, you think you’re invincible, so it is a shock to hear those words. I was very fit, never smoked, and so I did think: ‘why me, why has this happened to me?’

I was treated on an adult ward at UCLH to start with. It was very tough as everyone else on the ward was much older. There were no other young people around and I didn’t have anyone I could relate to or talk to. I felt very isolated on that ward.

I was then told about a new unit that Teenage Cancer Trust was opening at Middlesex Hospital which was designed for young people. I was told that I could have the rest of my treatment there.

I was apprehensive at first as I had never been there, but the moment I walked in I just knew it was the right place for me. The staff were so friendly and to see other teenagers there was amazing. The unit theme was Sun & Sand, so it was painted in yellows and blues which are lovely cheerful colours. It was light and airy.

The Teenage Cancer Trust unit wasn’t a depressing ward. There was still some laughter despite what we were all there for. The other teenagers and I could talk to each other and even though some of them had different types of cancer, we could relate to each other. 

Tania Shepheard in 2020

Tania today

The whole unit was set up so well and geared towards us. It was very relaxed and not formal like the adult ward. We could eat whatever we wanted and play music. The day room was a good spot and we could be normal teenagers. When you feel slightly better, we were able to watch a bit of TV or talk to other young people. Not everyone on the ward did make it. That stays with you.

There were two special nurses. Dee was the Sister on the ward, and she was absolutely lovely. She was Irish and she had a great sense of humour. Even in the direst of situations, she could make you laugh a little. Nicola was lovely too. They had an incredibly hard job. It must have been mentally draining for them and they were incredible.

I was 19 when my treatment finished, and the sense of relief was just hard to describe. I finished my last treatment and that night I went out celebrating with friends. It was fate because I met my future husband that night. I went out to celebrate the end of my treatment and I left hand in hand with him. We married four years later and it’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year.

Tania with her husband

Tania with her husband

I wanted Dee and Nicola at my wedding because they were a big part of my life at that time. My treatment and all I had been through came up in my wedding speech, so it was lovely for them to hear it. After all that care and hard work, it must have been nice to celebrate with me and see how I was getting on with my life.

Tania with her daughter

Tania with her daughter

I went on to have a family and I do remember looking at my daughter when she was 17 and just thinking how young I was when I had cancer. It’s an odd age because you’re not a child but you’re not an adult yet, so you’re caught in the middle. I have always told my daughter and son that life is a rocky road with challenges, and I have never sugar coated anything.

Having cancer shaped me and made me who I am today. It made me realise at a very early age what the important things are in life. I don’t sweat the small things and I appreciate life. It just made me want to seize life and go for things.