Age: 22

Cancer type: non–Hodgkin lymphoma

In summer 2020, I had just joined Jersey Reds before the new season. Starting training, I knew in the gut something wasn’t quite right. I’m usually pretty fit, but I had nothing in my tank. My heart rate was going sky high after doing a few lunges. It was at 197 beats per minute, and I felt light-headed, so it was obvious that something was up.

The Jersey Reds' medical team did some tests and I was sent to see a doctor very soon afterwards. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma quickly.

Cancer is such a heavy word. I couldn't say it for the first month at least because it carries so much weight; there's so much unknown to it all.

I was on an adult ward and at times I was the youngest by around 50 years. I was moved to the Teenage and Young Adult ward of the James Cook Hospital in Middlesborough. There was also a recreational room, and it was great to have somewhere to pass the time. After spending time on an adult ward, I really appreciated being on a ward designed for young people.

Even during the bad days and night shifts, the nurses were all so positive and it was always nice to be around them. Hospital wards can be quite bleak, but there was always something going on.

I was allowed visitors for my first round of chemo, but then the Covid-19 restrictions tightened, and I wasn’t allowed any more visitors. It also made it harder for me to mix with other young people on the ward. 

I don’t think I’d quite prepared myself for the isolation. I had to take the clock off the wall in my hospital room as time went slowly when I was watching the time.

The time I had on my own gave me a chance to reflect. I had bad days and dark moments, but I started to see it as a positive part of my life, and it made me realise what a lucky position I was in.

I would recommend that other young people give psychological support a try

But there were some absolutely grim days. The psychological part of cancer is just as big as the physical side. A lot of young men my age don’t like talking to people about their problems. It’s not natural to them. During the early part of my treatment, people were trying to get me to talk about it. At the time I thought: “Why are people trying to make me talk? They don’t know what I am going through.” 

But I’m very aware of the benefits of psychological support and I started to open up. My nurse told me that there was support available if I needed it. I thought that it was important for me to access that support after the treatment finished because cancer continues to live with you.

I found talking about it really beneficial as it cleared up a few things in my head. It allowed me to be at peace with myself. I would definitely recommend that other young people give psychological support a try as you only know once you’ve tried it.

The support staff at Jersey Reds have gone above and beyond. They treated it like a long-term injury and helped me tackle not only the physical side but the nutrition side too. From day one, I was able to do some cycling which helped with my self-esteem. 

Now that I have gone back, they have put me into the rugby injury group. It’s not like a normal injury, but it’s great that they have been able to treat it like that. It’s great to be around all the lads again and be in that environment. I can’t wait to start playing again and I want to repay all the support staff.

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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