Teenage Cancer Trust Stories

Natasha

Nathasha was diagnosed with Lymphoma when she was 15 and transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust ward in Cardiff. This is her story.

 

Before I was diagnosed, I was in year 10. I was 15. I was just going through my first year of GCSEs and at the time, I did athletics. I used to be a sprinter. I did 200 metre sprints. I was really into science and sports. Because I trained over at the track probably 3-4 times a week, coming towards wintertime, you’d get little gnats or mosquitos. I used to get bitten quite a lot and I used to come up with massive bites on my legs and they used to irritate me and I’d itch them so they’d swell up massively. And from that, the lymph nodes in my neck had risen up. So, at first, I was quite concerned. But we thought that maybe it was soft tissue that was swelling because I was tense when I was running. 



We went to the doctors and they said it was the lymph nodes but that they wouldn’t be concerned because they showed that I’d had a reaction on the leg. They took some blood and that was all fine except for my platelets. My platelets were slightly raised and I was slightly anemic but because I was fit and well, I didn’t show any other major signs. I was a little bit underweight but we put that down to training because I was training hard over the summer and I had my GCSE’s coming up. That went on for just over two and a half years and I still had lumps in my neck. We went back to the GP two or three times. I just kept getting lumps in my neck and then eventually I had them in my groin. Also, I had one that was quite visible on my left armpit but again, that was put down to being bitten by insects. Then, eventually, I got referred to the hospital near me, which is the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, where I had a chest X-ray and bloods. On the chest x-ray, they found loads of tumours all over my lungs, so they wanted to check if I was okay. Two days later, I had a CT scan and that’s when I found out that I had some kind of Lymphoma. That was around April 2015.
 
Once they found what was wrong, it took them two days to refer me over to the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, for me to be tested further and that’s when I had biopsies and so on. I was shell shocked and upset because my father was upset, and if he’s upset I know there’s something wrong. But because I was so worried in the two and a half years before I was actually properly seen by someone, when they told me I went into concentration mode. The best way for me to describe it was being on a treadmill. I was focused. I wasn’t scared because I finally knew what was wrong. Because they said, ‘we can treat it’, it did make me feel a lot better.
 

When I first got on the ward, it was quite nerve-racking because I’ve never stayed overnight at a hospital before. But the staff are unbelievably incredible. They’re absolutely lovely. It’s really nice there because when you’re on an adult ward or a children’s ward, you’ve either got babies and young children or you’ve got elderly and adults, but on the Teenage Cancer Trust ward there were people my age. All the nurses were very talkative and if you had any issues they would have nice conversations with you. It wasn’t just taking bloods and then checking in later, they’d actually ask, ‘how’s your day been?’ and they’d sit with you and play games. Compared to any other unit I’ve been on, it was really nice. Even though I was the youngest person on my ward, I did make some friends. The friends that I did make on my ward have sadly passed away. But I’ve been on trips with people from different units and I still keep in touch with them now. Physically, I was very lucky in terms of side effects. My oncologist put this down to the fact that I was very fit and well because I’d been training all the time. I didn’t have to go in for any infections. I had to stay in, once, when I got covered in rashes but that’s because my skin was so sensitive. I’d have headaches, feel nauseous. I’d get very constipated and suffer really badly with trapped wind in my back. That’s a side effect that I still have now. I have to be very careful about what I eat. I can’t have anything too oily, can’t have chewing gum… anything that risks irritating my insides.
 
Obviously, I had hair loss. When I talk about this, people think I’m crazy but with the hair loss, I just thought, I’ve got to be positive. So, I became excited about trying different bandanas. In that situation, you have got to be positive. If you have a negative thought, it’s just going to drain you for days on end. When my hair fell out, I thought I really don’t want this to happen but then we shaved my head and took my hair to the hairdressers and the Little Princess Trust made a wig for me. I did wear the wig a few times but mainly I just liked rocking a bandana. Then, when I was well enough to go to school, I looked different from everyone else, which I kind of liked. When my hair started growing back, that’s when it became more of an issue. It was growing back at different lengths, different angles, bits were curly, bits were straight. But now my hair is back to normal.
 
In November 2020, I will have been five years in remission. It’s a long time ago but I remember being poorly like it was a few days ago. It’s crazy. Since then, I’ve made loads and loads of friends from different units by going on different trips with Teenage Cancer Trust… amazing friends who I see now. We still keep in contact. One of them is on the same course as me at university. I’m studying Sports and Exercise at Cardiff Metropolitan University, which is great. I’m going into my third and final year in September. I’m back running again and I’m also playing lacrosse, which I’ve never played before. At Christmas time, I meet up with all my friends that I made through Teenage Cancer Trust. I think they’re the closest of all my friends. They understand me on a different level. Looking to the future, I could do sport in a lab setting, in the field, I could go into research, I could work with elite athletes. My course is very broad. The problem is, I’m so indecisive. I keep changing my mind but it’s great not being trapped into one route. 



Teenage Cancer Trust really is great. Not only does it allow teenagers and young adults on the ward to be able to have treatment and go on trips and meet other people, but it’s great to have a unit just for teenagers. The nurses are amazing. They create a calm and safe space. Because Teenage Cancer Trust doesn’t receive any Government funding, they rely on donations.

Thanks for sharing your story with the Omaze community, Natasha.

 

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