Beating cancer with the TCT

For many of us, our teenage years are not so far behind us. Although distant, memories of our first dates, first bras and broken hearts recall a period in our lives when we were able to explore our identities and develop into the young adults we have become today. But what if something were to halt that development? What if something disrupted your journey, forcing you down a different path full of fear, pain and uncertainty? What if you were diagnosed with cancer?

At fifteen, I was well on my way to perfecting the art of being a stroppy, moody teenager. I wouldn’t leave the house unless my make up was flawless, my hair was in place and my outfit just right. My appearance was always very important to me, I couldn’t even take the dog for a walk without touching up my eyeliner!

As my GCSEs approached my moods got worse. Like everyone else my age, I was stressed and anxious about the exams that were looming. But there was something else troubling me. Throughout the year I was developing crippling stomach pains, at first they came and went, but by the time my exams were a month away, the pain was constant. I made several trips to the doctor over a ten month time span, who diagnosed severe period pains, each time sending me away with a stronger pain-killer. However, the pain got so bad, that eventually my mum decided to by-pass the GP and took me straight to A&E instead. After spending several nights on a ward in absolute agony, the consultant told my mum that, despite not giving me a scan of any kind, he could find nothing wrong with me, and diagnosed me as mentally unwell. He told my mum that I had invented the pains in my stomach as a way to avoid taking my exams in the summer; I couldn’t understand why nobody believed how much pain I was in. Fortunately my mum knew me well enough to realise that my acting skills were not so great, and I would not have been able to maintain such a convincing act for so long! So, she agreed to take me to a psychologist, on the condition that I was given an ultra sound scan before we left. The hospital agreed, and it was that night I was diagnosed with a malignant Euing Sarcoma. The scan had shown that I had a tumour in my large intestine and it was causing the pain. The tumour was so large that if left undetected for just three more days, I would not be here today.

My diagnosis was followed by an operation and six sessions of chemotherapy over the next eight months. My local hospital referred me to the Royal Marsden in London, which specialises in cancer treatment. Although the staff were lovely, the ward I was to be treated in was awful. I had celebrated my sixteenth birthday the week before my treatment was due to start, which meant I was allocated a bed on one of the adult wards. As if being diagnosed with cancer wasn’t bad enough, I then had to endure eight months in bed alongside five elderly ladies with immense flatulence issues. Seeing my despair, a young nurse told me about a new ward which had recently opened in another local hospital. It was founded by a charity, called the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT), and the patients were all aged 11 to 24. Walking through the ward, I was shocked at the amount of young people in the same situation as me. Before my diagnosis, I had never heard of children or teenagers having cancer – up until then, I considered that particular disease to be something which I wouldn’t need to concern myself with until much later in life.

I stayed on this ward for the duration of my treatment. Being able to speak to other people my age about how I was feeling, what my fears were, and what I was angry about, knowing that they knew exactly how I felt was a great comfort to me. The Teenage Cancer Trust, and the dedication they put in to making teenagers as comfortable as possible through such difficult times, made my experience with Cancer that little bit more bearable.

Every year 2,100 young people are diagnosed with some form of malignant tumour. The TCT works hard to raise funds to provide units and wards where young people can be as relaxed as possible during their time in hospital. Often, treatment lasts for weeks, and so they try to ensure there is lots to do to keep patients occupied and their minds stimulated. They organise days out across the country, tickets for concerts, gigs and fashion shows, sometimes gaining access to backstage parties! They even work together with other charities to plan and pay for holidays for patients and their families.

Being diagnosed with cancer was undoubtedly the most terrifying experience of my life. After receiving a blow like that, it’s very easy to isolate yourself, and become consumed by fear and hopelessness. However, with the help and support of this particular charity, I was able to stay positive, and optimistic, meeting many different, inspirational people along the way. I have relapsed several times since my initial diagnosis, but the team at the TCT are always on hand to offer support, and at times a little bit of fun!

Not many people will have heard of this charity, but the work they do is unimaginably important; bringing a little bit of light to people in their darkest moments.


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