With all these things you have to start somewhere. In February 2014, aged 26, after not feeling well on and off for the previous past five months or so, I got a GP appointment. This particular appointment however, was different.
My mum is a nurse and we had been video chatting the previous afternoon after I had come back from a chest x-ray - I was at uni and had been feeling awful so we decided I should go home. It was the beginning of my revision week for exams, which I had been working toward since August and my housemates hadn't been helping my study one bit. I decided to pack up and drive an hour and a half home for some R and R (one of those r's had definitely been for revision - that was the intention anyway!)
I arrived home and my mum and sister pulled up as I was getting my keys out. When we were inside, under the light, they couldn't believe how swollen my face, neck and arms were. The next morning, I got an emergency doctor's appointment and in the afternoon, the GP told me and my mum that the x-ray showed that I had a lump in my chest. After months of feeling so ill and not having an answer, I felt validated.
The following day I was in hospital for tests and then transferred to another hospital. All the time with a member of family by my side. I organised deferring exams from my hospital bed and got friends to tell the others who needed to know. I was then on the young adult ward for a week whilst they did more tests. Every day with a visitor. I then got my full diagnosis and staging of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Stage 3B. It was the same week the family dog died - so a good one all round!
I had chemo for six months in which I was really sick. During my non-sick windows, I was able to go out on adventures with my friend Chris and the new dog. When chemo finished, we went to the End of The Road festival which was epic but physically tough. I got clearance a few months later, after the "end of chemo" scans and in 2015 went back to uni - on with the new normal.
But it didn't last long. Follow up tests showed the cancer had come back and this time I was prescribed a harsher chemo regime, followed by a stem cell transplant. This time around my mum took time off to look after me when I returned home after almost a month in isolation to protect me from getting infections. She has been there for hospital appointments, hospital stays and crazy trips out during chemo days. It is true to say that this time spent together has unified us as mother and daughter (as well as increasing my knowledge of the surrounding area!)
Having cancer makes you insular, which is probably unavoidable. I have spent time on a ward with terminally ill patients, an experience, which is unusual in my age group. Despite the insularity and anxiety cancer might bring, it is clear that you do not need to surround yourself with people who do not appreciate you or who are constantly absent when you are in their company. I was at a restaurant recently with a group of people and there was a stark contrast between our end of the table having lively conversations and laughter and the other end where they were almost all on their phones, in silence, not looking at each other. For me, to see this with having witnessed what I have - put your phone away, do not ignore what is in front of you.
I am now in a new normal - almost one year post transplant, the friends and family friends I always expected to be great, have been outstanding - my special group of friends united together and rallied throughout. My uni tutor has been amazing. I am on the committee of Trekstock - a national young adult cancer charity who are very supportive and through them I have met some brilliant people.
This experience has taught me more about human nature via the reaction of others to my cancer than anything else I could have conceivably thought otherwise. I have learnt that compassion and support can come from surprising places - far located and irregular contact friendships can become truly cemented.
I am conscious that I have been in a great position by having had a fantastic oncology team and my mum acting as medical translator and an on hand nurse which has made a great many things easier.
We have been torn apart by life and fitted back together slightly differently as a family (my sister was diagnosed with anorexia, the same month I was diagnosed) and over this experience, I have met lots other people of a similar age who, like me, have gone through or are still going through cancer. I have made friendships through Twitter (of all places) and I have also lost someone, of a similar age, to blood cancer. I have always known that my prognosis was good and at my last clinic appointment, I was diagnosed as 'stoical'!
Unless you have personal experience, you may not know what any of this feels like but I can now stand up and say (almost with confidence) "I am Alice, and I have had cancer - thank you for being here today" (with a wave not unlike the one once demonstrated by Julie Andrews) and so I will end by saying this: On World Cancer Day 2017, show your #ActOfUnity in solidarity with those going through treatment, in remembering loved ones or to reduce the impact of cancer on future generations.
Alice is supporting World Cancer Day 2017. On 4 February, World Cancer Day, wear a Unity Band or donate Right Now to play your part in one incredible #ActOfUnity to beat cancer sooner. The Cancer Research UK Unity Band will be available online and in Cancer Research UK shops for a suggested donation of £2. Join the #ActOfUnity Right Now at cruk.org/worldcancerday