It was September 2009; I had completed two years of university, and just started a placement year working in a laboratory, when I started feeling extra tired. I had been itching since the Easter holidays, but my doctor said it must just be allergies. I was awake most nights for a few hours scratching away and would grab keys and scratch till I bled in an attempt to get some relief. October came and I was rubbing my neck and shoulders one night after work and my hand brushed a small pea sized lump in my neck. I rang the doctors back home and made an appointment. I was doing a degree in Medical Biochemistry and suddenly a second year lecture came to mind and I remembered the slide on Hodgkin Lymphoma; enlarged lymph nodes, tiredness, weight loss and itching. I also remembered the lecturer having said that if you were to get cancer, “this is the one to get”, as it has a pretty good prognosis, at the time it felt like a completely irrelevant piece of information, little did I realise how often I would be repeating that phrase to reassure friends and family in the coming months.
I went to the doctors and told them what I believed was wrong and I think they believed I was a bit of a hypochondriac, but gave me some blood tests to keep me quiet. That very week my weight dropped, and I lost about half a stone in a week. I went back to work once the doctors told me there was nothing wrong and I just needed to take things a bit easier. I tried, but the lump in my neck still bothered me. I had also started getting weird red blotches appearing on my arms, but thought perhaps they were a reaction to one of the chemicals I was using in the lab.
A month later I went back to the doctors, knowing it had grown and again was sent away. When it got to December and the lump in my neck was approaching ping pong ball size and now visible through the skin I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I had read that a chest X-ray was a good diagnostic tool for Hodgkin lymphoma; I was constantly being monitored for a heart condition and so saw my chance. I went to the doctors on Christmas Eve complaining of chest pains and was given a slip for a chest X-ray, so went and had it done that day. I enjoyed my Christmas, pushing the thought of what was on that X-ray to the back of my mind. I rang the doctors a week later for the result, but no one had looked at it and they said they would be in touch if it was anything to worry about.
The weeks went on and I forgot about it. It was not until the 14th of January 2010 that I got a phone call from the GP saying they needed to see me urgently. Even then the doctor did not tell me what they thought they were seeing but said I needed to see a chest consultant. Thankfully my asthma consultant, from who I had been discharged took me on and saw me two weeks later. As I spoke to the consultant and he explained that he thought I had cancer, I thanked him, not the response he was used to, but I was just so happy someone was finally listening to me. The weeks that followed were full of tests, but I was pretty calm, just so pleased that things were finally getting sorted out. The scans showed I had Stage 2B Hodgkin Lymphoma, with three lumps in my neck and a mass on my chest, which explained the cough I had which I had totally ignored. I started 6 months of chemotherapy in the March, which I had once every two weeks. I was determined to stay in London and complete my placement, so fitted my research around hospital appointments, life does not have to stop because you have cancer.
A few months into chemotherapy I found Teens Unite in a Google search and made my first contact with them. It was then that special little treats started coming up for me. Better known to my friends as cancer bonuses! My first a trip to see Leona Lewis at the O2, followed by a relaxation day at the Metropolitan Hotel and tickets to Paradise Wildlife Park. The range of things I have taken part in has been amazing, and I have opportunities to try things and go to things I would not have done otherwise. I love meeting other young people at events and the recent Christmas Party felt like a bit of a family reunion. Other things, like football matches have been the ideal chance to thank people who have supported me through cancer and a chance for us to go out and enjoy ourselves together. I also got a very special Hair system from Teens Unite towards the end of my chemo. I had always been happy walking around without any hair, because I was unhappy with my NHS wig, but the hair system I was given from Teens Unite was amazing and I suddenly realised just how much I had been missing my hair.
I finished the chemo in August 2010 and celebrated with a massive party, just two weeks later I was packing my bags and going to back university for my final year, as if the past year of my life had never happened. The best thing about Teens Unite is just because your treatment is over they do not forget you. It is great to know there are people out there thinking of me and the treats did not stop either. I have had amazing opportunities, going to, the Royal Horse Gala, Disney on Ice, and a Makeup Day with Jemma Kidd and some Arsenal matches. They always seem to have a habit of popping up just around the time of hospital appointments or questionable scans. I have met so many amazing people through the charity and we continue to support each other outside of events over Facebook.
Debbie has a magic talent of introducing people she knows will get on well with and life has been so much brighter since then and having someone to share tears and laughter with while coping with the stresses that hospital and a life after cancer continue to throw at us is invaluable. Whenever I hear a teen has been diagnosed with cancer, my first response is how excited they should be that they can now be part of Teen Unite. It is easy to see that the best bit of cancer is Teens Unite!
I completed my degree, graduating in 2011 and returning to the same lab for PhD studies. And every year I make sure I celebrate my End of Chemo Birthday. I don’t think any year will beat last year, I got engaged to my now husband, Antony. Antony had been to the Respite Home and really loved the charity and some of the friends I have been connected with through it. Both our witnesses and the girl who did the reading on our Wedding Day were friends I had made on my cancer journey. It was wonderful to have some of the Teens Unite Team join me on my Wedding Day, in fact they are the first faces I remember spotting when walking down the aisle and it made me realise just how far I had come. And, of course they could not help but indulge me, I had a fabulous Hen Do at the Respite Home, which is starting to feel like my own home, I was pampered with some of my closest friends and received some lovely professional photos of the day as a Wedding gift. I really believe wherever life takes me, Teens Unite will play a big part in it, and both Antony and I look forward to what the future holds for them as a charity and the role we will get to play in this.