My story began when I was 17 and in my first year of sixth-form college in Cambridge. After a couple of months I started to get limitations in my left shoulder to the point where I couldn’t lift it above my head. I then started to get pain in my lower back, at this point I was doing a normal amount of exercise but never over doing it. I will always remember in November 2009 I took my driving test with a severely movement limited shoulder and constant pain in my lower back, whilst passing first time – an achievement I always share with people!
My mum took me to see several GPs as the answer was not clear as to what was going on. One doctor thought it was a trapped nerve in my shoulder and essentially told me to man up and get on with it! It wasn’t until I got a second opinion and a different GP suggested I get an X-ray on my spine – I was then told to go to hospital straight away. That same day I was admitted to Addenbrookes in Cambridge and had further scans. The scans showed that my spine was at the point where one of my lower vertebrae was almost disintegrated due to cancer, which later turned out to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I was in hospital for two weeks, in which time I had major spinal surgery resulting in metal rods being fixed to my spine to prevent paralysis and further damage. I remember being so happy to be discharged Christmas Eve so I could go home with my family!
A week or so later, the day after my 18th birthday, I started chemotherapy which lasted six months on and off, all whilst undertaking my A-levels. One of the biggest challenges at this time was going to hospital for treatment, then needing time at home to recover and then going back to college to try and carry on as normal with friends and also with my then girlfriend Ella. At the time of receiving treatment, I would be sat in a room with older adults with my mum and girlfriend supporting me. The day would always finish with a painful lumber puncture to ensure my brain would receive the chemotherapy as well. The treatment itself makes you feel weak, lethargic and generally miserable. This was a time when my friends were going out partying and having fun, whereas I would try to keep up with schoolwork, amongst the effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss and being sick!
When my treatment finished in July 2010, I was given the all clear and went into remission for two years. I was fortunate to go to the University of Brighton and had an amazing time, Ella later joined me geographically and went to Sussex university a year later. There were moments however where I would remember what I had gone through and how I never really gave myself a break from when treatment finished. These times were upsetting and overwhelming for me. It wasn’t until around two years later in 2013 when I received a short period of counselling for what I went through, but even that felt rushed and not greatly beneficial.
Having undertaken another university course to get my degree in nursing, I qualified in 2015 to start my enjoyable career of caring and treating young people in hospital for severe mental health issues.
In 2019 I married Ella, my long-term partner who stuck with me throughout all the hardship and challenges we faced, we are an amazing resilient team!!
To this day I still have restrictions in my spine, and I get pain daily; it is a constant reminder of what I had to go through as a teenager and young adult. I hope that my story reaches others who have experienced similar unfortunate times. I wish I had access to psychological support at a time when I needed it, you never know when you’ll need it, it could be later after treatment. That’s why being a part of Mind Over Cancer is so important, providing experienced support and advice whenever required.