On April 9th 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer – osteosarcoma of the femur. At the tender age of fourteen, I wasn’t too concerned about it. It didn’t even occur to me that I could die from it. Something was telling me that I would be just fine and my mum told me that I even started playing ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles on the piano. I don’t remember doing it at all! Looking back, I don’t know if that was naivety, shock or hope.
My treatment lasted for nine months with surgery halfway through to remove the affected bone and replace it with a titanium joint. I wouldn’t wish chemotherapy on anyone! It made me sick and gave me mouth ulcers; my weight plummeted and I had very little energy. Despite all this, I still managed to smile and stay upbeat, thanking the nurses and doctors for everything they were doing for me.
As the months went by, my hair started to fall out. It wasn’t that big an issue for me at the time – a girl who didn’t even wear make up! – but when I started to see it on my pillow, everything seemed a bit more real. My hairdresser gave me a pixie cut and eventually, my mum shaved it off with my dad’s electric razor which was hilarious! With a supportive family surrounding us, we managed to laugh even when times were really hard. Although people stared when I went out with a head scarf on, it wasn’t that much of a big deal to me. It was when my treatment had finished that I became more insecure about what I looked like. Having extremely short hair made me feel really unfeminine and I started to put on more weight as my appetite came back in leaps and bounds! I also had scars on my leg, neck and chest but to be completely honest, I’ve never been that bothered about them. Eight years on, I’m still learning to love my body as it is and not how I think it should be. My boyfriend helps as he makes me feel like I’m the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.
Another thing I’ve struggled with a lot since I was diagnosed is anxiety. Being sick nearly every day took its toll on me and when I was hungry, a mouth full of ulcers made eating painful. Every time the hospital food trolley would come around, I would gag at the smell and the more it happened, the more anxious I would become until I was having panic attacks. I was referred to a psychologist who explained how the fight or flight response worked and why the rush of adrenaline was sending me into a panic attack. She really helped me to deal with them but even now, I want to throw up when I see lots of different foods being scraped into one big bag.
Finishing treatment was amazing – I was still alive! – but it was also very, very hard. I was still learning to walk properly and of course, there were the long term effects of chemo to think about. I survived the cancer but the chemo has weakened my heart, I have constant tinnitus and obviously my leg is part metal! Every time I go to the doctors with any type of pain, I pray they’re not going to tell me that the cancer has come back. I’m constantly anxious that myself or one of my loved ones will have cancer especially since my father passed away from throat cancer three years ago. It was so hard to lose him to such a horrible disease.
Confiding in someone usually eases my anxiety as does writing. Getting everything out on the page and articulating exactly how I feel makes dealing with it so much easier. Writing creatively helps too. I was still studying for my GCSE’s while I was in hospital and I had to write a descriptive piece for part of my English course. Stuck in a hospital bed for days was so boring but writing about my local beach allowed me to escape it, just for a few hours. It’s something that still helps me now – whenever I need to escape real life, I just turn to my writing. In fact, I loved it so much that I ended up graduating with a Masters in Creative Writing last year – a huge achievement for someone who only got five GCSE’s!
The worst part of the treatment was being on a children’s ward and seeing young babies and children going through the same thing. It was heart-breaking, especially since I knew how awful they must be feeling. I remember one little boy who had tumours behind his eyes and was blind. One day, he ran up to me with his arms outstretched for me to pick him up but I couldn’t because I was on crutches myself. His mother told me that he’d never done that to anyone before! It was like he knew we were both in the same boat.
I hope that one day I will be able to have children of my own but another thing the chemo might have affected is my fertility. I hope that in my kids’ lifetime, chemotherapy will become a thing of the past so that cancer patients can have treatment that only fights the cancerous cells and not every other fast growing cell in the body. I haven’t had a panic attack in a while and I’m determined not to let my anxiety get in the way of setting up my own business. I do worry about the future but I’ve learned to live in the present and try to take each day as it comes. The scars on my body tell a story that will live with me forever but having cancer has shown me that it’s so important to chase your dreams and appreciate every little moment. I’m doing just that!
Alice is a 22 year old freelance writer from Wales. She writes a lifestyle blog and has also set up a cancer advice website at www.thosethreewords.co.ukto support others going through treatment. After graduating with a Masters Degree in Creative Writing in 2015, Alice decided to set up her own business doing what she loved and she is currently working on her idea. She enjoys writing, reading, eating chocolate and spending time with the people she loves.
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