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Providing support to anyone affected by blood cancer
I’m Ellie, I’m 19 and I’m studying English Literature and Journalism at Cardiff University, which I absolutely love.
However, something else is also part of my life – and that’s cancer. Although I’m now in remission, once cancer barges into your life, it can be difficult to forget!
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma Stage 2B in 2011, when I was 15. After months of symptoms, including drenching night sweats, breathlessness and a general lack of energy, I was actually relieved to finally have a diagnosis. My treatment was four cycles of chemo via a drip, tablet chemo and steroids; dotted with a few surgeries and invasive scans. But this year, all being well, I will be officially cured of cancer.
I’m passionate about using my experiences to help others and have written about how it feels to be a teenage cancer patient and survivor. Here are my top tips to anyone undergoing treatment for blood cancer. I hope you take something from it, and remember you’re definitely not alone.
You’ve probably heard it all before – healthy mind, healthy body. Unfortunately with cancer this can’t always be the case, but mindfulness really is key. Remember, it'll get better. Your reality won't be this forever - nothing in life is permanent, so these bad times will pass.
I’d also recommend taking each day at a time. Cancer is such a state of unpredictability, so this was the mantra I lived by when I had it. Instead of fretting about things you have no control over, and imagining future scenarios which probably won’t even happen, live in the moment. Not only is it more enjoyable and less hassle, but you'll value life more in the long run.
Cancer enabled me to meet so many inspirational people and long-term friends, as well as giving me plenty of incredible opportunities, experiences and events. It's a cliché but I wouldn't be who I am now without it. Sometimes you only see the truth behind this many years down the line, when you look back at your treatment plan and beyond.
Cancer can really make you find yourself; inspire you to change your career or travel; make you stronger mentally (and physically!) and learn important life messages. Some people find it useful to believe everything happens for a reason. This takes the fear factor away, of 'Did I get cancer because of something I did?'
You had no say in getting cancer, but you can control how you react to it. Blood cancer survival rates are ever-improving thanks to fantastic research, so try to think positively. Consider fundraising or volunteering for charities close to your heart. I did and it really helped.
Diet can be a bit of a minefield when you’re on treatment. Treatment can play havoc with your taste buds so, when you find something that’s both edible and pleasant, try to stick with it – even if it does mean even its smell will make you then cringe for months to come. I found ice lollies especially handy for this. Plus, they do say you are what you eat – so be sure to stock up on Fabs!
You’ll probably hear that you need calorific food during chemo to maintain your strength and energy, and, although ice cubes don’t hold many calories, they’re often really soothing.
On top of all the other alterations within your life, suddenly being unable to rely on your long-term favourite food as a pick-me-up may mean you need to get inventive – so use this opportunity as a chance to have something to do. Become motivated with opening your mind to delicious new cuisines. Chemo cookbooks are really helpful – even for undomestic goddesses like me!
Sometimes, sickness and nausea can be so intense that the thought of eating is off-putting. Even the texture or look can be bad enough at times, but it's vital to maintain your calorie intake, so don't just rely on food for this. Smoothies and shakes are tasty and beneficial methods of keeping your strength. Even ice cream is better than nothing.
I can’t forget steroids, which change your appetite probably more than chemo does. In the weeks before diagnosis, I had no appetite - another reason I was losing weight, aside from the actual cancer - but as soon as I began steroids, I couldn't stop scoffing. It gave me a slight moon face and shifted my metabolism quite permanently - now, I'm still hungrier than I ever used to be. Don't go crazy with eating, but accept your figure will change a bit, and unfortunately, it's all just part of the getting-better process.
Now, I'm not the biggest gym lover but since starting university, I've taken up regular swimming, Pilates and aqua aerobics, as well as walking absolutely everywhere.
I'd advise to take small steps, especially if you weren't active before cancer, as this is the best way of getting your body and mental mindset used to the idea.
See exercise as something to look forward to, not dread. You don't want more upset in your life, and it's true what they say - working out does provide endorphins - happy chemicals - which your body is probably screaming for!
Why not mix the best of both worlds – new cancer friends meet new cancer exercise? After moving to university, I joined a group called Shine Cancer Support. We sometimes meet to go strolling over the Welsh hills together. You’ll be surprised at how far you cover on foot when discussing all things cancer and beyond with chums you made thanks to your illness - a boost for your body and mind.
Remember everyone has their own pace, and you are going through a lot as it is. You can't expect instant change, but a gradual improvement to your energy and stamina levels will be noticeable soon enough.
Good luck to everyone with links to blood cancer. Whether you were diagnosed last week with leukaemia, are in long-term remission from lymphoma or are recovering from a stem cell transplant for myeloma, we’re all in it together and can all learn from each other.