Seb, 27, Hodgkin's Lymphoma
How did you find out you had cancer?
A few weeks after having the flu I had two lymph nodes swell up on my throat. Over the next couple of months the nodes looked like they kept their changing size. Looking back I realise they were just slipping underneath my collar bone. I was finally forced to go to the local hospital by my boss when they started causing me pain. After eight hours of being in A&E and going through every test and scan they could think of, they told me to go home and that they couldn’t make a diagnosis until a camera could be put into my throat and a biopsy could be performed. Within three weeks the cancer had been diagnosed and I was starting treatment.
What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?
When the doctor told me that I had cancer I didn’t feel any emotion and I wasn’t shocked. When I first noticed the nodes I knew that there were only a few reasons why they would suddenly become enlarged. At the time I just hoped that it wasn’t cancer and while it wasn’t painful I was happy enough to ignore it. I admit that thought process is stupid and it has annoyed various doctors and nurses that have helped treat me but to me, it was the only thing I could do. At the time I was halfway through applying to get into the army and since 2008 I have fought tirelessly against every obstacle that the RAF and the army could throw at me to be able to get back into the military. I knew that having cancer outside of the forces would put an end to me being able to serve. In a way I was right: as soon as the Army medical team found out I’d had cancer, they ruled against me being able to apply, but because of how simply and easily treatable it was they will allow me to try again once I am five years clear. So although I didn’t have any issues with having cancer, the thought of it stopping me from reaching my dream was overwhelming.
How did the people around you react?
I can only guess at what people around me were feeling and thinking, but I know that my parents, my best friend and his parents were upset and worried. My work colleagues initially showed concern but that was quickly overtaken by their annoyance and frustration at having to work harder and possibly longer while I was off work for seven months. As for the rest of my family, they didn’t really show concern or worry any more than they would have if I had just broken a finger.
What treatment did you have?
I had three months of chemotherapy, which took place once every two weeks.
How did you feel through treatment?
The first dose made me feel very ill while I was being driven home, which unfortunately is about an hour away from the hospital. I quickly figured out that this was because I was hungry so this started off the habit of going to a nearby restaurant after each treatment for a meal. My memory really suffered and the veins in my arms went solid. Also, as soon as I got out of the car at the hospital I would start shaking until I was taken through for my treatment.
What happened after treatment finished?
Once the treatment had finished, my body treated itself to every illness and infection it could find. Within three days of getting the “all clear” I was back in hospital with a mouth infection which stopped me from eating. I was released four days later when that had disappeared and and the other illnesses started. This lasted for about three months, at which point I was finally able to return to work. However I was still getting minor illnesses six months later and even now, nearly two years later, I still have some problem with my memory and my energy levels.
How did you get involved with Shine?
I didn’t know about Shine until the local group did a talk at another cancer group that I was part of. I thought that they seemed a nice bunch of people, so I went to the next meeting and I’ve been going as much as I can ever since.
What difference has Shine made to you?
Shine has helped me in a lot of ways. Most of it is just me listening to everyone else and realising that everyone else is either going or has gone through something similar. The most important difference Shine made to me though was allowing me to join the Great Escape. This put me into contact with a lot of different people who had also had cancer at a young age and the sessions at the Escape helped me come to terms with a lot of things that I had suppressed. It’s helped me move that bit closer to becoming me again.
How do you feel now about your experiences? What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?
I hate it! All of the doctors, nurses and even friends and family kept going on about how dangerous cancer is and how bad the treatment is, but not a single person mentioned how horrible the after-effects are. The three months of treatment I went through were easy compared to the last twenty months of recovery. The biggest and hardest change has been my complete lack of confidence with myself. Previously I was always confident that if I tried my best then it really was the best I could do; I could improve on it but I felt confident. I was also previously never bothered about how I looked. Even though I still look virtually the same, my thought processes and attitude have changed to a point where I wonder if I will ever return to normal.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?
To never give up and to never lose the determination that got me through the treatment. But most importantly, never get so frustrated and angry that I ignore or refuse help from those willing to give it. After all, it has become a lot easier since I allowed people to help.