I remember that day like it was yesterday. Instead of preparing myself for an exciting night out in town with friends, I was getting ready to visit the hospital to see my consultant regarding the results of a biopsy I’d had two weeks before. Deep down inside I was glad that I would finally find out if the tumour, like a creature growing on my shin bone, was malignant or benign.
Accompanied by my dad, I was escorted to a waiting room by a volunteer. There were several people in there, all of them deep in conversation with whoever they’d brought to their appointment. I tried to determine whether the people around me seemed worried or calm, but it was difficult to judge as they continued to converse in whispered tones. The minutes seemed to tick by extremely slowly. I was in a dream-like state as I scanned the noticeboards around the room, each one strewn with leaflets related to cancer. I never once thought that cancer might be the reason why I was there! The crowd in the waiting room slowly whittled down, as patients were summoned by nurses and shown to consultation rooms. Each time a nurse appeared I hoped my name would be called; I just wanted to get it over with.
After what had seemed like hours, I was directed to a small room where my consultant was sat with a nurse. The image of my x-ray was visible on a computer screen, a reminder of why I was there. They then proceeded to discuss the results of my biopsy and various scans I’d had. The only words I could discern were “it is cancer”. That execrable word, like poison to my ear, was ringing around my head: cancer, cancer, cancer. Time seemed to stand still at that very minute; I was in a complete state of shock, not knowing what to say or do. However, my consultant brought me back to reality. I must have seemed rather aberrant, as he indicated that my reaction was not what he had expected; I think he was used to people breaking down after hearing those words. I believe that he did not fully understand how much it was for me to take in, especially as I never imagined that the tumour would be cancerous. I learnt that I had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, and that I would need several rounds of chemotherapy and an operation to replace my tibia with titanium. I was also informed that the reason why I was in excruciating pain was because the tumour was pressing against a nerve.
The nurse, silent up until that moment, began to reel off a list of things to expect whilst having chemotherapy. It was at that moment that they got the reaction they were expecting. I burst into tears when I learnt that I would lose my hair. To a young woman image is very important and I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel feminine without my hair. The nurse continued to enlighten me on the side effects of chemotherapy; I would feel extremely tired and should expect nausea and perhaps loss of fertility. It felt like my whole world had come crashing down at that moment.
Everything around me was a blur when I left the consultation room, as I had no control over the tears that continued to fall. Sitting in the car with my dad was rather awkward, as neither of us could conjure up the words to say how we felt. I switched on the car radio because the silence was maddening. Avril Lavigne’s ‘With You’ blurted out of the speakers. I now despise that track as it reminds me of that day; the worst day of my life. The only detail I remember about the car journey home was that my dad took me to McDonalds to try and cheer me up a little.
When I arrived home I locked myself in my room. I was exhausted from crying and was not in a sociable mood. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I was bombarded with text messages from friends, each wishing me a happy birthday, but I ignored all of them; I wasn’t happy and I didn’t feel like celebrating. I’d forgotten that it was my birthday.
When I learnt that I would receive chemotherapy on a Teenage Cancer Trust ward, I didn’t realise it would have such a positive impact on my life. It was like a home away from home- every bed had its own television and games console, there was a computer room where you could access the internet, and which was also stocked up with a vast array of DVDS and books. Patients were even able to have friends or family stay over and order takeaways. With visitors I felt like an anomaly, as I stood out due to my lack of hair and the strange Hickman line which protruded from my chest, used to feed drugs through. On the TCT ward I was part of a bald-headed gang who could all relate to each other. Sometimes we even made jokes about cancer; the ward had a huge positive effect on many patients’ mental attitude. It almost felt like I had nothing to be afraid of. I never once thought about death, I just knew that I would get through the chemotherapy and would be on the road to recovery. I was determined to fight cancer and obliterate it. After several rounds of chemo and an operation, I was told that my tumour was 99% dead. I had several other rounds of chemotherapy after my operation to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. I believe that being an inpatient on a TCT ward contributed immensely to the way I responded to treatment, as it allowed me to do activities which I do on a daily basis, which prevented me from wallowing in self-pity.
I’ve attended several Teenage Cancer Trust events since being discharged from hospital, as I like to show my support for a charity that has had such a huge impact on my life. I received tickets and backstage passes to a comedy show, which starred many popular entertainers, including Noel Fielding, Horne and Cordon, Sean Lock and Gok Wan. I invited my Nan along to the event, as she has also won a battle with cancer, so I felt that she was the perfect person to accompany me. We both thoroughly enjoyed the event, especially meeting the stars of the show backstage, though my Nan rather comically referred to Gok Wan as ‘Gonk’ by accident. I have also assisted the Teenage Cancer Trust at a Take That concert, where I volunteered to collect donations from attendees and helped to make people aware of the charity and the importance it has on the lives of teenagers and young adults suffering with cancer.
Most recently, in March 2013, I travelled to London to see my favourite band, Kasabian; they were performing at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. The venue was filled to capacity with fans eager to support the band and, more importantly, the TCT. During the interval, a short film was played about a former cancer patient called Charlotte. Every face was focused on the screen, as the crowd learnt of Charlotte’s experience with cancer and how being treated on a Teenage Cancer Trust ward had been tremendously beneficial. After the video, Charlotte appeared on stage with Noel Gallagher; she received the biggest cheer of the night. Members of the crowd looked at her in awe, a hero in their eyes. The film brought back memories of my own battle with cancer and made me realise that the TCT helps hundreds of young cancer sufferers across the country. The rambunctious crowd, jumping and shoving each other whilst Kasabian performed, were raising money for a worthy charity, as well as having an enjoyable evening. The event mirrored what the Teenage Cancer Trust achieves; it enables young cancer sufferers to lead a normal life, which can sometimes be quite fun (especially when patients are offered free gifts and tickets).
I have now been cancer-free for five and a half years, though I have not yet received the all clear; I will be in remission until I reach year 10. I now have check-ups once a year and every clear x-ray is like giving cancer the middle finger. Though I am now unable to do things which I could before, I don’t take anything for granted and I consider myself to be very lucky to be where I am today. I am grateful to all of the medics that assisted me through my treatment and convalescence, but I am especially thankful to the TCT for allowing me to fight cancer in an environment that felt like home and which had a positive influence on my mental outlook. I hope that the Teenage Cancer Trust will continue to receive support from the public, which will enable them to build more specialist units where young people can obtain treatment in an environment that allows them to lead a normal life and improve their chances of survival.