Natasha Powell (18), from Bridgend, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 15 and was treated at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Cardiff University Hospital of Wales.
When I was 13 I was really into athletics. I was training five times a week so when I lost weight and was feeling tired a lot, the doctors put it down to that. I also had enlarged lymph nodes in my neck, but the doctors thought I’d had a reaction to being bitten by mosquitos on the track as that had happened before.
I went backwards and forwards to the doctors over a two-year period. My platelets were rising, and we pushed to be referred on as my parents said that we would go private if not. In April 2015 I was finally sent for an X-Ray and an urgent CT scan which indicated that I had Hodgkin lymphoma, but I was also told that it might be Cat-scratch disease.
When we were told for sure that it was Hodgkin lymphoma I was really confused, and I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t understand what they were saying as they didn’t use the word cancer. I just got upset as my dad got upset. We were given some leaflets and I looked through them and started to understand it.
I was referred to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Cardiff University Hospital of Wales the month before my GCSE exams. I had six rounds of chemo and missed a lot of school. I found the chemo treatment very tiring and it made it harder for me to study, but I wanted to continue in the year with my friends. I also felt very sickly because of the chemo and I lost my hair. I saw some pretty bandanas that I wanted to try out, so I was actually quite excited to start wearing those.
The environment on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit was a lot different to other hospital wards. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I’d been in a children’s hospital. The children ranged from babies up to the age of 15 like I was, but they all had different illnesses rather than cancer. The Teenage Cancer Trust unit just has teenagers and young adults with cancer, so I was able to relate to them more and to talk and enjoy myself. The Teenage Cancer Trust unit was also more relaxed and chilled out; the doctors and nurses weren’t constantly rushing round.
The Teenage Cancer Trust nurses were great, and I felt I could talk to them when I got down. The Youth Support Coordinator Anna was very supportive as well and I knew if I needed help with anything I could count on her. She organised social events on and off the ward and I made some amazing friendships.
A lot of my school friends at the time wanted to bubble wrap me and they questioned what I should be doing as they were trying to look after me. That was lovely, but it was nice to be able to just relax around the friends I met through Teenage Cancer Trust. They didn’t question how I was or whether I was exerting myself, we just had a laugh.
Lots of people on the ward would socialise with each other and play games so no-one felt like that they were dealing with cancer on their own. There was lots of arts and crafts to do too. I always liked keeping busy, so I would do a lot of painting and colouring to pass the time. There were areas within the ward where you could just chill and have time to keep yourself to yourself too.
My father and I would spend hours playing on the pool table, which was my favourite game. I was also able to play other games with my friends from school who came to visit me. There was also a jukebox which my father would try and put the oldest music on and see if the jukebox would recognise it, but it always recognised it. There was also a kitchen and I stocked up the fridge with banana milkshake because that was the one drink which I really enjoyed during chemotherapy.
I went to the Find Your Sense of Tumour event which brings young people with cancer together. I was anxious at first as I hadn’t done anything like that before, but I found it amazing. I had a lot of fun, made friends and went to some really inspiring talks on topics I could relate to.
I’ve also been to one of their shows at the Royal Albert Hall and took part in the Ultimate Backstage Experience. The music workshop was really interesting and different. There were lots of different instruments and everyone was able to pick and choose what they wanted to play with. I chose to play the keyboard because it had really funky sound effects on it and it was fun to play with. Each instrument station had different pieces of music to play with and learn, and those who were singing created a song. My favourite part was when we were able to perform our song to Nile Rodgers. He said that it was very good and complimented us on our skills and on how we used the instruments.
I was really excited to see Nile Rodgers and Chic perform live because I knew some of their songs. We got to go on stage and to sing and dance with Chic and many of the other young people who went on the trip. I made lots of new friends and met my boyfriend.
I had six rounds of chemo in total and was very pleased that the scans came back clear and I didn’t need to have radiotherapy. I managed to carry on and do my A’Levels with my year group which was great, and I’ve started at Cardiff Metropolitan University doing Sports and Exercise Science. A friend that I made at a couple of Teenage Cancer Trust event is there too, which is great.
I am fortunate enough to be able to run for the university team. It’s very nice to be back to doing something which I loved doing and I am really looking forward to competing again in the summer. I’m currently training for the 400-metre sprint but I hope to do 800 metres if I am well enough. Life is looking really good.