Location: London, UK
Diagnosis: Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma (Stage 2)
Just a couple of days before my diagnosis, I had been on a surfing trip in Portugal. I was living a veggie-filled, exercise-heavy, zenned-out life.
Portugal was incredible, other than a pesky cough and some intense chest pain. I thought I’d possibly broken a rib. It sounds silly now, but I was in the best of health (other than the list of symptoms that I hadn’t actually noticed!). A few days after I landed back in the UK, I went to my GP who saw no issues and couldn't quite figure out where my cough was coming from. He suspected it could be asthma and he sent me for a walk in x-ray and prescribed with me with an asthma pump.
I walked over to the hospital, swearing under my breath and feeling a little annoyed at the possibility of having asthma. Oh how little I knew…
After my x-ray, the consultant took me into a room and asked me a whole load of questions. It all seemed so silly at that point. I was answering 'no' to all of the symptoms she was throwing at me. Night sweats: no. Nausea: no. Pain: no. Everything she asked me I had an explanation for. We had the biggest heatwave in the summer of 2018 that the UK has ever seen; who wouldn't have night sweats? I had been throwing up for the last 8 months but I'd put that down to a gluten intolerance. As for the pain in my chest, which admittedly made it hard to walk at times, surely that was just a broken rib? They say that when you have a type of cancer that grows for years, you learn to live with your symptoms so they don't seem like issues anymore.
I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma a week later. I started chemotherapy a couple of days after that.
It was ten minutes after my bone marrow biopsy test before a doctor came into the room looking quite nervous. He said that I should start chemotherapy that same day. Maybe it was the sedation or maybe it was the sheer panic, but I kindly told him to f*** off! I couldn't believe it! I gave myself an afternoon to process what was happening and was admitted the next morning.
The process for me felt less like a 'journey' and more like being pushed off a mountain and hitting an endless stream of boulders on the way down. But I needed chemotherapy to save my life. My tumour was bigger than a watermelon and crushing my lungs and heart.
Going from the sunny beaches of Portugal to being admitted to a cancer specialist hospital at 23-years-old was a pretty big shock to the system. I still had tan lines during my chemotherapy! Post holiday blues has nothing on that.
It’s been a blur of side effects. The last four months have felt outrageously long and there’s not an easy answer or way to deal with any of the countless side effects of chemotherapy. Every day has been different; some turbulent, some lazy. Lazy was all I hoped for during chemotherapy. It’s a dream to have the mental power to think “I want to do nothing today”, rather than go into battle against the immortal cells inside your body.
One piece of advice:
Having cancer can be so lonely, but it doesn't have to be. You have a bombardment of medical staff enter your life, as well as your friends and family wanting to be by your side. But no one quite understands what it’s like to feel the way you feel. It’s like being in a skin that isn't yours, with a fresh pair of eyes and a new batch of senses. Not only does everything feel different, but everyone reacts differently to you too. Get yourself a cancer buddy – someone who is or has been through it too. There’s strength in numbers and having that buddy throughout cancer can turn your worst days into your best.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Brave Collective. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information.