Ben Oliphant: My story

“I gain a lot of comfort reading people’s stories; as a teenager, I think it’s hard to fully understand what is happening and I hope that my story can help someone see there are positives.” Ben was 15 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Here he reflects on his journey and how it led him to today.

My friends used to call me Bart Simpson when I became jaundiced, little did we know that it was leukaemia. It was 1998 and I was in the final years of school, looking ahead to college and to all that life had to offer. I was in the middle of work experience when the manager told me I didn’t look well. I bumped into some friends who pointed out the yellow pigment of my skin, comparing me to the famous Springfield resident. 

I got home and my parents agreed they should take me to the GP. I was told it was probably some sort of virus, but my parents insisted I should have a blood test. The blood test results came back: “I have some rather important news. I’m sorry to tell you Ben has leukaemia.”

I looked at my mum. I had heard of leukaemia but I didn’t know what it was, although I knew it wasn’t good. I was taken to the hospital and from that moment my life completely changed. I was diagnosed with ALL. My parents were praised for insisting on a blood test as my jaundice (albeit rare) was an indication. I underwent intensive chemotherapy for a total of four years. 

At first, I didn’t know how to feel, but the prospect of being ill for such a long period of time hit me hard. I was scared, shocked, and distant, but at 15 I never understood the severity of my diagnosis. 

I spent years in and out of the hospital with side effects that still affect me today. I am 6 ft 5 and I had dropped to eight stone which of course came with its complications. I’ll never forget the first time I looked in the mirror after starting chemotherapy. I screamed and burst into tears. I was like a skeleton and no longer looked like my twin brother Andy. 

Remission was difficult. Even though the leukaemia had left my body, mentally it stayed with me for a while. As weird as it sounds, I was scared of a life without leukaemia and chemotherapy. I had wanted it to stop for so long, and when it did I was of course relieved but I also felt an indescribable emptiness.  

On the other hand, rather than feeling like I had been cured, I was always asking “Will it come back?” which is a trait I have carried on further into life. 

My family have helped me get through this; this wasn’t just my diagnosis, it was all of ours. It became a part of our lives, and it wasn’t until later on in life I understood what impact it must have had on them. 

Do you know what the six most common signs and symptoms of leukaemia are? They are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Bone/joint pain
  • Repeated infections

Are you currently experiencing any of these signs and symptoms? If so, contact your GP and ask for a blood test.

For more information on our Spot Leukaemia campaign, our goal and how to get involved, head over to our official Spot Leukaemia website at www.spotleukaemia.org.uk

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