It's no secret that teenagers are moody, tired and sometimes not great company. With all the hormone changes they're going through it's no surprise that their personality and energy levels change too. Or at least that's what I was told when I went to my GP in September 2011 with extreme tiredness. If it was just this symptom I was presenting with I may have accepted what he said. However I was also having night sweats, severely itchy skin and a lump had grown in my neck. I knew in myself that something wasn't right, but how can a 15 year old girl dispute the medical opinion of a respected doctor? My age made me vulnerable, I felt unable to speak up and defend myself against the diagnosis of 'stress'. I was trapped, helpless and although I didn't know it, severely unwell. Months went by and I was no closer to an answer, and I was consciously resisting the urge to Google my symptoms in the hope of any plausible explanation.
Eventually, when the itching got unbearable to the point I couldn't sleep at night, I went to see a dermatologist privately. My legs were red raw from continuous scratching and I could see the doctor was shocked by how bad they looked. As dramatic as it sounds, I looked like I'd sustained burns. The doctor told me that he would write to my GP with his opinion, which, as it turned out, was incredibly accurate. After seeing a locum doctor at my GP surgery, I was referred to the Worcester Royal Hospital, where I was told they suspected I had a form of cancer, Hodgkin's Lymphoma. After multiple blood tests, scans and a small operation, I was given the official diagnosis - Hodgkin's Lymphoma stage 2b, which essentially means it was confined to my chest and neck. I started a chemotherapy and steroid programme near enough straight away and was told I was in remission after 6 months of gruelling and life changing treatments.
My age made me weak. Made it harder for me to be diagnosed. I could have been saved from months of agony, anxiety and emotional trauma. Society has a preconceived idea about teenagers; that they are lazy, moody and seek attention from those around them. The modern day culture of social media and soap operas has not helped this, as teenagers are often represented in a very negative light. I don't know if my GP was prejudice towards me because of my age, or if he genuinely didn't know what was wrong with me. As much as I want to believe the latter, if this was the case, why did he not get a second opinion? I understand the demand on GP services is incredibly high and the pressure they are under is extraordinary. I am a big fan on the NHS, they saved my life, I am not trying to undermine them, but I am forced to wonder what the other option for my late diagnosis is. I looked into this matter post-treatment and discovered that a simple Google search of my symptoms will generate over 200,000 results, the vast majority of which are 'symptoms of lymphoma' or something similar.
I have been in remission from cancer for 3 years, and as it approaches the 4 year anniversary of my diagnosis, I have been contemplating how different my life would be if I had been diagnosed on time. If my age hadn't of participated in late diagnosis. I would have achieved more than 3 GCSE's, I would have not had to do a part-time week at sixth form for the first year. I would have left sixth form last year alongside my friends. I may have been at university now. I may not have been left with as much scar tissue in my chest from tumours, so my fatigue may have been reduced. A lot of things could have been different. Except teenagers exaggerate; they are expected to be tired; we all know they are moody. My age made me vulnerable, I was unable to speak up against a voice of authority. My age made me weak.
Unfortunately my case is all too common, near enough all the young people I've met that have also had cancer have experienced similar treatment. Do we live in a society where teenagers have become the "forgotten cancer generation"? If it was an individual case then it could be put down as an exception, except this is hundreds of teenagers every year experiencing the same issue of late or misdiagnosis. Could the negative connotations attached to teenagers be the common denominator?