"When I was 17 I was just an ordinary teenager; I enjoyed going out with my friends, was studying hard at school getting good grades, and I wanted to follow on to a career in science. I was doing several out of school activities including kayak slalom, where I got to the level of competing nationally. I never thought my life would all change overnight.
I had just completed my gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, for which I walked over 70km in 4 days. When I came home from the walk, my mum, who is a nurse, noticed a lump on my collarbone. Instantly, she had a gut feeling something was wrong and arranged an emergency doctor's appointment for the next day. I was very nervous at this point because I could tell my mum was worried.
My GP was extremely helpful and he sent me to have an emergency biopsy right away. I was extremely anxious while I was waiting for the results. When the consultant came back into the room he told me he was 99.9% sure it was lymphoma.
I was given the option of hearing my results over the phone, and when the call came a week later, I picked up the phone with both hands. I answered it but then passed it over to my mum - I couldn't bear to hear the news.
The person on the other end of the line said I had Stage 3B Hodgkin lymphoma and I would have to have chemotherapy. The rest of the day was a complete blur.
Looking back on it now, I had been extremely tired for months prior, but I put this down to stress of exams. I wasn’t feeling ill at all so when I was diagnosed with cancer, it came as a complete shock.
My treatment consisted several scans and tests before I started 6 months of chemotherapy which I was lucky enough to have as an outpatient every fortnight in my local hospital in Perth.
I coped really well with the treatment, but the biggest issue for me was hair loss. I was really upset at first about losing all my hair but I soon got used to it and realised it was actually the least of my worries.
When I was finished chemo, I was put into remission. Sadly this only lasted for 2 weeks. I found another lump on my neck and this time I was told I would have to have an auto stem cell transplant in a specialised hospital in Dundee, further away from home in Perth. I was absolutely devastated at this point. I just wanted to get on with my life again.
I began treatment immediately, which involved 3 rounds of high dose chemotherapy to wipe out my immune system. The chemo made me extremely unwell and I would land in the hospital in Dundee for weeks at a time with serious infections, kidney issues and severe vomiting.
I was in isolation for my transplant and I was often far too ill for my friends and family to come visit. The adult ward I was in was very busy and I remember at times I would be pushed to the side as there were a lot of other ill patients on the ward.
The month I was in for my transplant passed very slowly and there was not a lot to do. An exercise bike was put into my room but I was too frail to use it properly.
After my transplant I received 21 sessions of radiotherapy and I was placed in partial remission, but I felt like a walking time bomb, just waiting for my cancer to come back with vengeance.
I tried to get my life back on track, building my body back up to the way it was before, beginning college and getting back to some sort of normality. I really struggled at this point - although I had a great group of friends and family around me, I felt they didn’t understand what was going on in my head. I was constantly worrying about relapsing but they could see me getting better on the outside.
I was offered no psychological help and had to get through it myself with no local young people support groups. I managed, but not for long.
I had another relapse and this time I would have to find a bone marrow donor. At this point in my treatment I was moved to yet another hospital, the Beatson in Glasgow.
My initial meeting in Glasgow was a complete weight off my shoulders, although this really should have been the worst point of treatment so far. I was given a meeting with the specialist consultants before being shown around the transplant ward. I remember both my mum and dad crying at this point.
Then the nurses then took me through this colourful doors and I thought 'where on earth is she taking me now, this doesn’t look like part of the hospital at all'. Well it was, it was the Teenage Cancer Trust unit and it was amazing!! It was a large social area which had different sections where patients could come and relax. It felt like home rather than a clinical hospital and they also had several separate rooms available for inpatients staying in.
The care I received wasn’t just medical and my Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator, Lisa, came to see me all the time when I was on the unit and brought activities for us to do.
She was always around to talk to, even if I didn’t feel up to doing anything. Lisa organised group meet ups with other young people supported by Teenage Cancer Trust. She also arranged accommodation at the hospital for my mum so she didn’t have to think of anything else other than me getting better.
When I was allowed out of isolation there were always several groups or workshops on a week in the Teenage Cancer Trust unit which Lisa had organised. Everything from pizza and movie nights, to prize bingo. I also spent Christmas in the unit and they went that extra mile to make it a great day!
For me, the best thing about having Teenage Cancer Trust around was that I was able to socialise with people my age and act ‘normal’. We were all so comfortable sharing our stories and helping each other come through a horrible situation as we were all going through it together. I still keep in touch with them all, even three years on.
The support and staff from Teenage Cancer Trust is amazing. It felt like it was my sanctuary and I never felt out of place which is sometimes how I felt while being treated on an adult ward with my mum as other patients would automatically assume it was my mum having treatment and not myself.
Now, I’m working part-time at a jeweller and still attending monthly hospital appointments. I would love to work for a charity like Teenage Cancer Trust in the future!
One of the main stand out moments was the fertility talk by Dr Allan Pacey. This was extremely close to home with me as my second transplant has put me into early menopause and sadly I was never offered to have my eggs frozen before I began my treatments. I remember coming out of that talk actually feeling happy because of all the options Dr Pacey had mentioned for young people like myself and really this isn’t the end.
I really loved Find Your Sense of Tumour; it was great to listen to other people’s stories and know that I wasn’t the only one. It also made me aware of other groups I could reach out to for support like the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
When I was just diagnosed, my friends also organised a music evening for Teenage Cancer Trust, and since being out of treatment, I’ve done my own fundraising too.
Being supported by Teenage Cancer Trust was a lifesaver. I have met some of the most amazing people ever and made friends for life. I really do think every young person who is diagnosed with cancer deserves to be supported by Teenage Cancer Trust - they really do make all the difference. The support I received from Teenage Cancer Trust has completely changed my journey and they are a large part of why I am still around today, because they really did save me.