Content warning: This story discusses bullying
I never liked school much.
I didn’t get on with people my own age and had very few friends. I used to sit upstairs by myself at lunchtime and was nervous going to lessons. I started missing school because it was too stressful.
When I started feeling so tired that I couldn’t get out of bed, my parents initially thought it was because I was anxious about school. I had a blood test to see if it was chronic fatigue syndrome.
I got a call back the same day and was told to go into hospital for another test as they thought the results must have been wrong. A normal white blood count is between four and 11 and mine was around 300. They did two more tests and the results were the same.
When they told me that I had leukaemia, my dad broke down in tears.
It sounds bad, but I was relieved. School was so awful that I was glad to have a reason not to go in anymore. I don’t think the diagnosis really hit me until I was hooked up to a machine in hospital a few days later.
I started treatment at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. My cancer, chronic myeloid leukaemia, used to come with a life expectancy of five years, but advances in medicine mean I now have a normal life expectancy, although I might be on chemo tablets for life.
I’d previously been sent to Child and Young Adult Mental Health Services for my anxiety, but they didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant help. But after being diagnosed with cancer I was referred again, and they discovered that I had mild autism. I had more help with my mental health after being diagnosed with cancer than I ever did before.
The diagnosis only hit me when I was hooked up to a machine in hospital
I still had to go back into school to carry on with my GSCEs. I found it really hard as I was so tired, so I only went in once every two weeks. I had a home tutor for the last two months before my exams and I ended up passing all my GCSEs.
Meeting Claire Fowler, Teenage Cancer Trust’s Clinical Nurse Specialist at St George's University Hospital, changed my life.
I didn’t talk too much when we first met, but she’s so friendly and chatty that it was hard not to warm to her. She was really understanding, and I soon found I could talk to her about anything. I opened up more and more, and told her about my problems at school and my social anxiety.
After school I got a job as a salesman, but I had to turn to Claire when I was being bullied at work. I had a colleague who wasn’t understanding about my treatment and mean to me about it.
Claire encouraged me to do things that I wouldn’t have done before because of my anxiety, like going along to the social events she organised with other young people on my unit. I knew she wouldn’t push me to do anything I didn’t want to do, and I felt safe with her.
Claire from Teenage Cancer Trust changed my life
She also suggested I go to Teenage Cancer Trust’s ‘Way Forward’, an event for young people who have finished treatment. As well as going to some great sessions there, I made friends with people with whom I’m still in touch.
In the years since my diagnosis, Claire’s said that I’ve grown in confidence since we met. I went from being nervous about talking to other people, to working as a salesman where my job was talking for a living. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that. I’m so glad that she has been there to help me as things would have been very different without her.