No One Should Go Through Cancer At 14. But This Is What It Taught Me

I try to never dwell on ‘why me’ – cancer doesn’t pick and choose.
Lily, in treatment
HuffPost UK
Lily, in treatment

It all began at a badminton session.

After I felt a pop in my collarbone area while playing, I began to notice a lump that would, day by day, get progressively bigger and more painful.

I remember how shocked my mum was when I showed her – she immediately booked an appointment with our local GP, who then referred us to the hospital. There, I had a scan and was told we would have to wait eight to ten days for any result.

But just two hours later, we got a call asking us to come back immediately. Something wasn’t quite right. They ran some blood tests and by the end of the evening my blood sample was on its way to the Royal Marsden Hospital, a specialist unit. They suspected I had blood cancer.

We got sent home to quickly pack some things, and prepared to stay overnight at the hospital. After a week of more tests, scans and a biopsy, we attended a meeting at the Royal Marsden, where I was diagnosed with grey zone lymphoma, a rare blood cancer, and told I needed to start six sessions of chemotherapy.

While I was going through chemotherapy at The Oak Centre for Children and Young People at The Royal Marsden, I can honestly say I met some of the bravest people in the world – and that includes doctors and nurses as well as patients. I made a new friend, Yasmin – her and her family have got two more years of treatment, but they helped us a lot with getting used to treatment. They made it easier and so welcoming, as did all the staff at the Royal Marsden, who are unbelievable people that I can never thank enough for all the work they did. My doctor, Elisha, made me feel safe and positive whenever we had a check up and whenever I had to go for chemotherapy. She is a hero who saved my life, and I will always be thankful to her for everything she did for my family and I.

“After chemotherapy had finished and I didn’t have a main focus, finding self-love and accepting myself got much harder.”

I was just 14 at the time I was diagnosed, and I honestly don’t think I quite understood how surreal it was. Suddenly, my only priorities were my family and friends, schoolwork and staying alive. But after chemotherapy had finished and I didn’t have a main focus, finding self-love and accepting myself got much harder. I didn’t look like anyone else at school, and I felt like I couldn’t escape what had happened to me. I got stared at a lot, and it became hard to be polite and ignore the way people saw me. My self-image got so bad I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without crying – at one point I literally put bin bags over my mirror because I didn’t want to see myself.

I tried not to let my image stop me from going out with friends when I could, because they made me feel ten times better. In fact, I think the reason I have been able to stay happy and focused through cancer is because of the people around me, I didn’t surround myself with any negative energy.

Losing my hair was definitely one of the toughest things I went through, though I knew the treatment was helping me and I lost it for the right reasons. I have a few inches back now, I can straighten it, and I’m already making plans with what I want to do with it when it’s grown longer.

“I think a lot about how lucky I am to be here, and how I appreciate life much more than I did before my diagnosis.”

Thankfully, I’m now in remission and only need check-ups every three months at the Marsden. But I think a lot about how lucky I am to be here, and how I appreciate life much more than I did before my diagnosis. I’ve learned that cancer doesn’t pick and choose, so we can never dwell on the question ‘why me’ – because it’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But, of course, I would never want anyone to go through what I have been through. I would like to think, with how fast modern technology is advancing, cancer will be beaten once and for all, and the future will be brighter for anyone who is diagnosed.

Above all, every day I try to be thankful to still be here. Some days are harder than others, but I’ve learned you’ve got to keep pushing and do things that make you happy. With the help of my doctors, my family and friends, who have been saints from start to finish, I’m back in a place where I am genuinely happy with how my life is.

Can We Cure Kids’ Cancer? airs tonight 10pm on Channel 4 and will be available to stream on All4

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