*Please be aware, this story discusses suicidal thoughts*
Before cancer, my mental health had always been fine. I was still a teenager, working out a lot and enjoying university life in Glasgow. I thought I was invincible.
I started to lose weight, get night sweats and have painful joints. I had been poorly for a month and was barely able to get out of bed by the time I finally decided to go to my GP. I was given paracetamol and antibiotics and had a blood test.
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I went back to Edinburgh to be with my family and had a biopsy at the Edinburgh Western General. Two days later I started my treatment on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit there.
A couple of months into treatment my mental health started to deteriorate.
I really thought, 'I’m not sure if I can do this.'
I was naive about how severe my form of cancer was. My initial two months of treatment didn’t work as planned, so I changed to a more intensive, daily treatment. My body was breaking down in front of me and I had the sudden realisation that this would be my life for the next seven months, followed by another two and a half years of maintenance treatment.
I was the only one on the unit with that type of cancer who needed daily treatment at that point. I really thought, 'I’m not sure if I can do this.'
I thought about giving up and committing suicide.
I was referred to a psychologist who gave me some good coping mechanisms. But I was just really sad and I needed someone to sympathise with me and say, 'we know it sucks and we know it’s bad, but you will get through it.'
I didn’t want to burden my mum by saying that I wanted to commit suicide. Luckily, my Youth Support Coordinator Nicola and my Clinical Nurse Specialist Fiona were there for me. I couldn’t have felt any more supported by them.
I knew that I could open up to them and talk honestly about how I was feeling. They told me about other young people who had been in my position and how well they were doing now.
The experience of having cancer was horrific but if Teenage Cancer Trust hadn’t been there, it would have been so much harder. Every time I thought about giving up and calling it a day, Nicola and Fiona made sure that I didn’t make any rash decisions and that I carried on.
When I started maintenance treatment, I moved my check-ups to the Beatson Teenage Cancer Trust unit so I could go back to university in Glasgow. It was hard as my friends had moved on to the year above, I had forgotten a lot of the things I had learnt, and I got tired more easily.
I’d also left university in good physical shape and returned with some skinny bits and some fat bits and being bald from the treatment. I felt like I was living in someone else’s body, which was hard. People don’t realise things like that affect men as much as women, but it can.
Then COVID-19 struck, and I moved my treatment back to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Edinburgh Western General so I could be at home. Cancer can be very isolating, but COVID-19 made it even more so. Again, Nicola and Fiona were there for me if I had any questions. It’s nice to know that they are still looking out for me.
Nicola has been doing a lot of activities virtually during COVID-19 to make sure that people are feeling supported. There are Zoom quizzes and a sunflower growing competition. It gives me something to look forward to.
Cancer can be very isolating, but COVID-19 made it even more so.
I’m already feeling so much better physically after my maintenance treatment finished in February 2021 and that has really improved my mental health. I hope that I can show other people that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you can get through it. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and get help and make sure the help you get works for you.
If you’re a young person going through cancer and you feel you’re struggling with your mental health, please do speak to your clinical team, Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse or Youth Support Coordinator. They’ll do whatever they can to help you, which may include referring you to specialist support.
If you or someone else is in crisis and needs urgent help or further support, please visit: https://www.teenagecancertrust.org/get-help/urgent-help