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My story begins as a 17 year old back in November 1997 when I noticed that my neck was swollen on one side. A couple of days later I mentioned the swelling to my mum as it was still inflamed; it looked like I’d swallowed a golf ball. After seeing my neck, my mum immediately sent me to the doctors. My GP had seen a case of Hodgkin’s disease before and recognised similar symptoms so to be sure, he referred me to a specialist at the local hospital.
When I went to see the specialist it was the first time I’d been to a hospital for a long time. I remember him taking a biopsy of the lump in my neck, which came back as inconclusive, so he gave me a choice. I could have an operation to remove the whole lump, or I could leave it and see how it developed. Initially, I wanted to leave it, however my mum was adamant that it went. Obviously she was right, aren’t mothers always?
I had an operation to remove the lump and went back to the hospital at a later date to get the results. I remember being told I had Hodgkin’s disease, which has now been renamed Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I didn’t know what the doctor was talking about and for some reason it felt stupid to ask. I was referred to a consultant in the haematology department. We asked for some more information and were given leaflets and a video to watch. I remember overhearing someone refer to my diagnosis as the dreaded C word. It was the first time it had been described as cancer and I had no idea how to react.
The actual condition itself didn’t make me feel ill. But medicine is a strange thing, for some reason it can make you feel considerably worse before making you feel better. I underwent a variety of tests to find out how advanced my condition was, and from there they discovered I needed to have a bone marrow sample taken.
The most unusual of the scans was the PET scan. I had to have my head and neck scanned because of the location of the lump. Fortunately, all of tests identified that my Hodgkin’s lymphoma was only stage 1, the best possible outcome.
The chemotherapy regime that I was placed on was called ABVD. After my first session I had a Groschen line fitted into my chest as the initial session had been quite painful. This meant that treatment could be completed quicker, which unfortunately meant feeling very light headed! I had my treatment in the Deansley centre of New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. The staff there were fantastic, and made a fairly horrible experience much more bearable.
I remember my mum contacting Leukaemia CARE to ask for some more information. Throughout my journey, Leukaemia CARE has been incredible! I was put in touch with a care and support advisor who really put my parents and I at ease. He had been through treatment himself, so knew what it was like. His help and support was invaluable.
During the initial period of chemotherapy I was studying for my A-levels. From there, I attended the University of Warwick whilst still undergoing treatment. It certainly made studying more challenging. However, despite its difficulties, I went on to successfully complete my degree, and subsequently trained as a teacher.
Throughout my illness, my relationship has grown from strength-to-strength. My partner and I first met about a week after my initial diagnosis. We were only teenagers, so I’m surprised he didn’t run a mile! But sure enough he was there through it all - the treatment, the tears, the smiles, the check-ups, and finally the all-clear. It undoubtedly made our relationship stronger.
Richard and I got married in 2004 and since then we have gone on to achieve something that we never thought would be possible as a consequence of having chemotherapy, to have a family. I am grateful every day for my good health and for each of my three beautiful children, they’re my everything!
In recent years I have tried to give something back to Leukaemia CARE as a thank you for the care and support I received during my illness. So far, I have completed three 5km runs, raising over £300, and I hope to do more fundraising this year.