At 15 my biggest worry was whether I’d got my homework done in time for school. Within a very short space of time I went from being a confident teenager who aspired to become a professional Rugby player, to being a cancer patient who had to rely on close friends and family to achieve the simplest of tasks.
My symptoms were very sudden; the first obvious sign of illness was while I was at school doing a practical lesson of GCSE Sports Studies. At the end of the lesson I became breathless, causing me to faint.
The next morning, I woke up with a swelling in the lymph glands of my neck. I’d completely lost my appetite, constantly felt fatigued and my complexion was very pale. I was taken to an out of hours doctor who put it down to a virus and sent me on my way with some antibiotics, but they had no effect. I then went to my regular GP and explained the symptoms and he requested I go for a blood test the next day. I was relieved to get the blood test out the way and thought nothing of the potential results.
That evening my GP knocked on my front door; he had the results of my blood test. He explained that my blood count was critically low and I was expected at my local hospital within the hour where they would do more tests. I’d never had to stay in hospital before, but I remained optimistic and reassured my younger brother and sister that I’d be back soon.
The world around me simply froze as the consultant at the hospital uttered that I had Leukaemia – cancer of the blood.
My first thought after hearing Leukaemia was my Grandad who had been diagnosed twenty years prior and subsequently died from the illness; I believed I awaited the same fate.
I felt a whirlwind of emotions. How could this of happened? Was it something I’d eaten? Within an hour, I’d gone from being with my family at home, to being in a critical condition in hospital. The next day, I was transferred by ambulance to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
It was an incredibly surreal moment as I was taken onto the Oncology ward at Birmingham Children's Hospital. I’d only ever seen cancer patients whenever there was a charity appeal on TV, suddenly my situation became very real.
After receiving my formal diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia I learned I’d have 3.5 years of chemotherapy immediately.
I struggled to comprehend that I wasn’t going to be able to do the things I loved anymore. I was stripped of my independence, dignity and adolescence. I’d got everything planned for my future, I was feeling optimistic about entering my final year of High School and facing my GCSE’s, I was training 4 to 5 times a week at my local gym in the hope of being accepted into a specialist sports college to make my dream a reality in becoming a professional Rugby player. My brother and sister were going to be starting High School and I was going to be there for them as their big brother. Suddenly that was all made impossible and my biggest challenge now was survival.
Due to my condition, I was becoming weaker and the simplest of tasks became a massive operation. I constantly needed the support of my parents, siblings and nurses. It was a difficult to get my head around that in the long-term chemotherapy had the capability of saving my life, yet, in the short-term it was making me feel worse. I felt incredibly blessed to have my friends in hospital who knew exactly how it felt because I didn’t feel alone.
I received some of my treatment at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. We’d found some sort of routine to the way of life, every week I’d go for chemotherapy and we’d prepare for the oncoming side effects.
In November 2013, after a going for routine chemotherapy, I was faced with a violent bout of sickness and mucositis. Stopping me from eating or drinking, I became weak and susceptible to infection. Having been rushed into hospital after my temperature spiked, my condition began to decline. Doctors were unsure what was happening, my skin had turned red and I was in a lot of pain. Showing no improvement, I was transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where specialists were waiting.
I was told I had Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (a rare skin condition) and was given 48 hours to live.
Producing burns across my body inside and out, the toxicity caused my bone marrow to become dormant, meaning I had no defence. Things got a lot worse before they got better however, gradually my bone marrow began to work again, and my very slow recovery started. This process was made a lot easier by Zoe, the Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator at Birmingham Children's Hospital, she provided me with support and various activities.
I entered the maintenance stage of my treatment in April 2014 which, from where I’d come, was a massive milestone. Life was going to get better and I was going to get my freedom back. I expected to go back to school and lead off from where things were left. But it was all too different, I found when I came back to school a lot of my friends had changed and moved on.
I lost a lot of confidence and found it extremely difficult to hold a conversation with someone, without talking about cancer.
I’d had enough of my cancer ruling my life, although I’d only been back at school for a month I still decided to sit five of my GCSE subjects. I tried to start new hobbies again, I became a Cadet for Warwickshire Police in 2014, I was still suffering from the effects of my treatment however, it gave me something else to focus on and provided me with some independence.
It was yet another transition stage, however it was made a lot easier after speaking to Zoe who recommended coming on the social trips that the Teenage Cancer Trust provide.
I was apprehensive at first but I soon discovered that everyone else felt the same way. It was such an enlightening moment knowing I wasn’t alone and everyone could relate to my experiences. I became more connected to the charity and went on the Royal Albert Hall trip and under 18’s Find Your Sense of Tumour conference.
In February 2016, I was asked to join the Steering Committee for the under 18’s Find Your Sense of Tumour conference. It was an amazing opportunity and allowed me to try and make the event even better for those young people attending. I also gave a speech covering my own experiences and the challenge of acceptance with cancer which I thoroughly enjoyed doing. Soon after I was asked to deliver an after-dinner speech at the City Plumbing Supplies annual charity ball, with an aim of raising funds for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Talking to Zoe at Birmingham Children's Hospital, I was told about other charities which help young people and I was able to undertake work experience with England Rugby’s Digital, Marketing and Communications team. I met my sporting heroes during the hype of the Autumn International games against Fiji and Australia. I learnt a lot and the opportunity taught me that although I don’t play Rugby anymore there are other ways of being part of the Rugby family. I’ve now applied for University courses which suit a career in this area.
My treatment finished on 15 December 2016 but the memories of my cancer journey will remain with me for the rest of my life.
I have received endless support, friendship and opportunity from the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Without the help of Teenage Cancer Trust, my attitude towards my treatment would have been a lot different. I owe a huge debt to those who’ve inspired me because they’re the ones who instilled the fight in me to continue my battle. Although I’ve now finished my treatment it’s been yet another time of change and has been difficult at times. I’m still supported by Teenage Cancer Trust and currently planning a second year as a member of the organising committee for the under 18’s Find Your Sense of Tumour conference.
I will continue to draw on my experiences with cancer for inspiration as I now somewhat begin to get my life back together. Having cancer has dramatically changed my perspective on life, taught me many valuable life lessons and given me a very good story to tell in the future.