It’s been a strange little week in my world this week. The anniversary of my friend’s death, memories that showed up on my Facebook and posts I’ve seen all kept one word on my mind. Cancer. Those that know me will know that I’m a cancer survivor. It’s something that’s a part of who I am, it turned my world upside down, I’m cancer free now but I choose to volunteer with and still keep in touch with the charities that supported me so it’s still very much a part of my life. Not to mention most of my close friends are survivors too.
Having cancer as a teenager changed my life and who I was, I didn’t really know who I was, I guess your just figuring it out at that age…but despite all the bad, the late effects I still have, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It made me grow up, made me appreciate every day, even if every day isn’t perfect, it’s a day I’m here, a day I can smile about. It makes you grateful and actually it made me realise that the smallest things that often seem like nothing are the things that can make someone smile, that can turn their day around. Even just a message to say how are you, I’m thinking of you, it can mean more than you know.
I love volunteering with CLIC Sargent, it’s so good to be able to help develop and suggest new services and support areas for children and young people that are being supported now and in the future. That’s all I really want, for every child and young person diagnosed to receive the incredible support that I had, because it makes all the difference and if we can improve that service along the way then it’d be perfect.
There are some things I hate about the cancer world at the age I found myself in it. The one thing I’d love to change is the level of awareness of children, teens and young adults getting cancer. Can you imagine going to your doctors for 8 or 9 months with constant symptoms and not getting anywhere? Being told your stressed, depressed or just that your overreacting? That’s the reality so many end up going through when they visit their GP. They have the symptoms, even just a few of them, the symptoms that can indicate cancer…but it’s not picked up, it’s not thought about and it should be. It should be at the top of the list of things they look at, even just as a precaution. Because that one thought in a doctor’s mind of “Oh, this could be cancer.” It can save a life. And I know that sometimes you can’t know and that GP’s have alot to deal with, they do great things and I’m not blaming them but something like this, something that can literally be the difference between life and death, it should have so much more awareness.
Instead, as teens and young adults, we’ve had everything, “You’re too young to get cancer.” “It doesn’t happen to people your age.” “Your just being over dramatic, it won’t be anything serious.” “It can’t be anything big, you’d be really ill.”
All of that is wrong and it’s crazy that it’s even said these days, it happened to me, I wasn’t too young, the little boy on the ward with me, he wasn’t too young. The friends I have now and have lost, they weren’t too young. And many of those that have passed, had late diagnosis, misdiagnosis, the outcome may have been different if they’d been taken seriously when their symptoms started to show. Instead of waiting sometimes a year to get anywhere.
I was a late diagnosis, I’d been to my doctor for a while before I ended up in A and E and that kick started my path to finding out it was cancer. But had we just gone back to the GP instead, I may not be sat here writing this now.
It’s not just the medical world that needs more awareness, with the rise of charities that focus on children and young people’s cancer in recent years there is more awareness, more coverage…but there are still lots of places that don’t know how to handle it when they have a student with cancer, or an employee.
Because alot of my friends are survivors it sometimes feels like there are lots of us, I know to the outside world we are a minority, that there are other demographics more likely to be diagnosed. Which is why it sometimes feels like we are zoo exhibitions when people know we have/have had cancer, it’s like they see the diagnosis and not the person. Then come the comments, “Oh, I didn’t realise you could get it young.” “Well…will you like…die?” (Yes that’s an actual question someone asked.) I know myself and alot of my friends would love more than anything for there to be more awareness, to help early diagnosis, increase levels of the right kind of support and maybe most of all, so people treat you like a normal person sometimes. Not like a martian or someone with a death sentence.
Actually, what I found most helpful was being able to do normal things, being able to go to the cinema, go for a meal, to even do my homework. It’s those things that people don’t realise will make the difference.
All those people that still think you can be too young to be diagnosed with a serious illness, all those professionals that dismiss a worried teens concerns. They are wrong, Cancer doesn’t care what age you are, what kind of person you are, what race you are. It can happen to anyone…and it can happen to children, teens and young adults too. Because it happened to me.