I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia when I was 14. I had four rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. I’m now 24, so it’s ten years on from when it happened. It feels weirdly close but also quite distant.
It was a Wednesday and I had been feeling a bit off for a few days. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs, so I got a blood test in the morning. At the hospital I was told I had acute myeloid leukaemia but didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t understand everything they were saying. All I remember was holding a jelly in front of me thinking that I wanted to go home.
My parents were living overseas in Hong Kong at the time of my diagnosis, and they couldn’t fly over in time, so I was on my own when I was diagnosed. The hospital was really good at finding a Cantonese translator to speak to them. They were able to explain the situation to my parents.
I was put in the care of a Teenage Cancer Trust unit with a wonderful Youth Support Coordinator called Zoe. She was always there for me and always chatted to me.
Cancer felt like another label to separate me from everyone else
When my friends came to visit, I was nervous because I didn’t want them to see me after I’d started losing my hair. All of them were so good at handling it. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to see a friend go through that. They kept reassuring me that they didn’t care what I looked like.
With time I found myself feeling really sad and negative about everything. I didn’t know about it when I was younger until I started talking about it and realised that those emotions I was feeling were a result of my poor mental health.
Having the cancer diagnosis made me different from my peers. I am Chinese and going to school I had struggled with my cultural identity because I felt out of place. Cancer felt like another label that would separate me from everyone else.
Listen to Gloria’s episode of AfterThoughts
I remember speaking to Zoe about how I was feeling and she asked me if I’d ever considered counselling. It’s a very big taboo in the Asian community because mental health issues are interpreted as being a really big problem when that isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s about having an outlet to talk about your feelings without judgement from someone who can understand.
I never used to celebrate my ‘cancerversary’
My counsellor was of Asian descent too and I was a little bit fearful because of how mental health is perceived in our background. The minute I started speaking to him about things that were affecting me he was really understanding. I didn’t realise how important that would be. Our conversations were really honest and it meant I wasn’t ashamed.
I’ve never celebrated a ‘cancerversary’ before because growing up I was really embarrassed. I never really wanted people to know that I’d had cancer. Everyone at my school knew and I was always the girl with cancer. It was really obvious with my bald head and the hat I wore all the time. Once I went to university, I never really talked about it, I just wanted to keep it to myself because I didn’t want people to think of me as just that person. I didn’t just want to be the girl who’d had cancer.
As I started growing and developing into myself and finding things I’m passionate about, I’ve discovered it doesn’t really matter. I should talk about it and should be able to celebrate it because having come through cancer is a big achievement for me.