I had mask anxiety during radiotherapy treatment
Georgina was 22 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She suffered from anxiety both during and after her treatment, including fears about relapse. But the emotional and psychological support she received from her counsellor, Jo, has helped her move on and look to the future.
In April 2019, I woke up and noticed a large swelling on the side of my neck. At first my GP thought it was a viral infection, but after a month the lump was still there and I knew something wasn’t right, so I pushed for a referral and it was biopsied.
When the results came back and they told me it was Hodgkin lymphoma I was absolutely devastated. My family and I were in complete shock and terrified about what lay ahead.
Initially, I was in the adult section of the hospital and was the youngest by about 30 years. Thankfully, I was transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit. I was so relieved when I walked in that first day, being surrounded by people my own age and specialist nurses, I suddenly didn’t feel so alone.
My Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse, Charly, talked me through everything and gave me all the information I needed. It had all felt so overwhelming on the adult ward, but I wasn’t as scared or overwhelmed after talking with her.
I had two cycles of ABVD chemotherapy then radiotherapy for 10 days. The chemo made me feel really unwell and I was admitted to hospital twice with neutropenic sepsis and had to have a lot of antibiotics.
But I found the radiotherapy tougher psychologically. You have to wear a plastic mask secured to your head and you can’t see anything. I felt so claustrophobic and panicky. Charly talked me through how to calm myself down, such as listening to music during the treatment, and prescribed some anti-anxiety drugs. It was still hard, but she really helped me to cope.
My counsellor helped with my constant worries about the cancer coming back
Throughout my treatment the unit was a godsend. I received so much physical and emotional support there. The visitor times were a lot more flexible than they would have been on an adult ward. My fiancé could come up and see me after work and my family would pop by when they could.
I don’t know what I would have done without Teenage Cancer Trust. I’m forever grateful for them and their support, which continues even now I’m in remission. I am also so thankful to have had access to my counsellor Jo works at the hospital from day one to help me emotionally in my recovery, which is something not all young people get access to.
I think that getting your life back on track after cancer is really hard and you definitely need help to do that. When I finished treatment, Jo rang me a week later and said to come in for counselling, and I’ve been speaking to her for a year.
Jo helped with my constant worries about the cancer coming back. She talked me through ways of dealing with them, and helped me realise that relapse was a possibility, not a definite, so I could start to look to the future.
Without Jo I would have found the recovery process a lot more daunting. I was very anxious about treatment ending and being left to get on with things. Having Jo meant I felt like I wasn’t just left alone.
I’ve made friends with other young people with cancer online, some have been treated at units too, and they’ve had nothing like the same level of psychological support I’ve had from Jo. I know one girl who has been waiting over a year, and still hasn’t had any help.
When I hear that other young people don’t have somebody like Jo it makes me really sad because I would have really struggled. She’s kept me grounded and after every appointment with her I left feeling more able to cope with life. Every young person deserves that support.
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