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Ellie Philpotts

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Ellie Philpotts-4 SMALL

In today’s world, cancer can seem hard to ignore or escape from. Of course, it’s good that so much exposure is being given to this umbrella of diseases. But, no matter how much you’ve heard of cancer, you never quite anticipate getting it yourself. Perhaps particularly when you’re a teenager, apparently, the period in which you’re normally at your healthiest and carefree. So how does it feel when your impression of invincibility shatters, and your cancer diagnosis comes when you’re only 15?

In 2011, this applied to me. I’d heard of Hodgkins lymphoma before, but the prospect of getting blood cancer myself at any age, let alone while sitting my GCSEs, had rightly, never crossed my mind.

As with many blood cancer cases, my symptoms began innocently; more tiredness than usual, itchy hands and feet, feeling a bit too out of breath when walking somewhere as undemanding as the fridge. And as many of us do, I dismissed these as being for other, more ignorable reasons. But as the months progressed, so did my symptoms, and before too long they’d escalated into drenching night sweats, swollen glands and constant breathlessness.

Blood cancer can straightaway present itself as a hard pill to swallow (literally), so when mine was confirmed, I don’t think my brain was sure what exactly to focus on. There were so many different pathways, each with their advantages and downfalls. The fact that it was Stage 2B and wrapped around in my neck? Bad in one obvious way; a relatively advanced strand in a less than- ideal location. But, positive as I was relieved to have any diagnosis and could at least get on with treatment and ultimately strive towards recovery, rather than dragging out my illness even longer. I was diagnosed after a week in a Teenage Cancer Trust unit, which makes all the difference. It’s nice (or as nice as it can be) to be around people your own age. Although the news was a shock, I felt determined to adopt a positive attitude from the word ‘go’.

Having to lose my hair? No-one looks forward to that, perhaps least of all when you’re a teenager and in the process of developing your own image and identity. But on the plus side, maybe it’s the chance for a much-needed new hairdo.

On a wider scale, lymphoma’s low points are easy to see. Your appearance can change but it’s important to still recognise yourself. You might find you’re juggling a range of side-effects beyond the obvious chemo induced sickness, such as neutropenia or a shifting appetite. And on a non-physical level, it can send ripples around your whole support system. They may not be the patient themselves, but your family and friends are still affected. Hopefully though, overall, you’ll emerge with the mind-set that even something like cancer can’t chip this area of your life.

I’m now 20, in my final year studying English Literature and Journalism at Cardiff University. I’m enjoying all life brings, perhaps most of all the fact that I reached my milestone this year of being officially cured of cancer. For five years, I’ve been living happily in remission, but lymphoma is still an important part of my life because it’s made me eager to give back to the blood cancer community. The benefits of charities are massive – they provide hope, allow people to connect with others in similar situations, put the ‘fun’ in fundraising and make room for opportunities stretching far beyond your comfort zone. As well as submitting various blogs for Leukaemia CARE, I interned at their offices this year and it’s clear to see how dedicated and passionate they are in making blood cancer that little bit easier to handle. Overall, lymphoma has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. It’s taken me down so many avenues, from public speaking which I never would’ve even thought about, to travelling and realising more of what I want to forge a career out of. I have a number of hopes for the future – I’m aiming towards working in journalism or the charity sector, and the beauty of hindsight means I can see blood cancer has helped to carve out this path for me.

Blood cancer is educational in many senses. As well as making you feel (almost!) like a haematology expert even if biology wasn’t your strong point at school, it really does let you know that life should be cherished, and while each blood cancer journey is unique, going through something like this demonstrates that together, we have more similarities than differences. My advice to anyone more recently diagnosed is that things can improve, don’t be afraid to ask for help; make the best of what’s available to you and remember you’re definitely not on your own.