THE BLOG

Everything Changes - My Cancer Diagnosis at 21

20/07/2015 17:46 BST | Updated 20/07/2016 10:59 BST

It's often the case that tragic things happen all around you, but you never think they will happen to you. Sometimes you are wrong. Sometimes you are the person right in the middle of things. That's what it felt like when the doctor told me at 6.30pm on Thursday evening that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).

It is a cliché to say that one particular moment can change your life forever, but I know that this moment did exactly that. I went from being a normal 21 year old with one more year of university to go, looking forward to graduation and thinking about my future to suddenly being faced with the reality that my life had been turned upside down.

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Before my diagnosis, my future was bright, colourful and set out in front of me, but now everything felt grey and unclear. I felt lost. Everything that had once been in my control had been taken away from me. All of a sudden the future didn't matter anymore; all that mattered was right in front of me - the battle that I face. Everything else simply paled into insignificance. The words still floating in the air: "You have leukaemia".

On Monday morning, I had happily got up to begin my summer internship, and it was only when a cough started to bother me a couple of days later that I considered going to see the GP. I expected simply to be told that I had a chest infection, be given a prescription and then sent on my way. However, the doctor seemed insistent that I was referred to a hospital. At the time I thought she was overreacting. All I could think was that I wanted to get back to work - I had only just started my internship and I wanted to make a good impression.

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That night I was told that I had pneumonia. As a precaution the hospital took some of my blood for a routine check. At 10pm I received a visit from a doctor telling me that I had to change wards - pneumonia wasn't the only issue: there was something wrong with my blood. The doctor explained that I had a 'low blood count', i.e. you do not have enough red blood cells, platelets or white blood cells. I was told that this could just be a side effect of the pneumonia or there could be a more serious underlying health issue. I knew there was something wrong. I could tell it in his eyes, he was worried. I cried.

The next morning I had to give a bone marrow sample. The blood is made in the bone marrow, so this would clarify what was wrong. It only took about 5 hours for them to turn over the results, then my doctor sat next to me at 6.30pm and broke the news. It was less than 24 hours between me arriving in hospital thinking I had a small chest infection, to finding out that everything had changed. One minute I was a simply me; the next minute I had entered a completely new world: I was a cancer patient. My only thoughts were of the vast amount of chemotherapy that I knew I would be facing in the coming months.

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A number of days later, the news only seemed to get harder as I discovered that I would definitely need to have a bone marrow transplant. This was difficult for me to swallow - it meant more intense chemotherapy, as well as radiotherapy, all of which would be required to shut down my immune system.

However, it has also become increasingly clear to me that this is not all about me anymore. I can battle as much as I like, but I need someone to be my donor. I need a stranger to save my life by donating their bone marrow (or, more accurately, their blood stem cells). But it can't be just anyone - it has to be someone whose tissue type matches my own .

That's where the Anthony Nolan charity comes in. If you sign up to their donor register, you have the opportunity to save a stranger's life, someone like me. Signing up couldn't be easier, all you have to do is fill out a simple form and spit in a tube. There's a handy YouTube explains the whole donor process.

I was devastated by my diagnosis, and the thought of the long battle ahead terrifies me. No university next year, no normal life, just intense chemotherapy and all of its side effects. But I know that I will fight and I will recover - but I need your help.

If you are aged 16-30 please sign up to the Anthony Nolan register at www.anthonynolan.org.