It was back in May 2002 when noticed a lump above my left ankle forming. Being a normal active teenager, I thought my lump was a result of a nasty tackle in football and unfortunately, I ignored the issue. It was eventually in mid August, where I saw my local GP as I developed extreme throbbing pains near the lump.
At first, it was diagnosed as a harmless 'cyst' that would disappear in due time. I was, however prescribed painkillers and a biopsy was taken of the lump as a precaution. After a few more scans and tests, it was later found that the lump was cancerous and that I would need to consult an Oncology expert immediately. Not being fully aware of what was happening to me, I suppose the news did not impact me immediately.
My initial consultation with Dr. Afifi at Llandough hospital showed an insight on what Osteosarcoma was and the treatment for it, but my mind was diverted to my family who was understandably very upset. I attempted to stay positive and accepted what was required for me to be cured. This meant I had to begin my intensive chemotherapy treatment instantly and to put my studies aside. This was a difficult transaction to go through but for the sake of my health, I only had one option.
A Hickman line was inserted into my chest not long after the initial consultation. My chemotherapy started a few days later and all seemed fine, as my hair was still in tact and the drugs did not affect me too badly. The nurses and doctors kept my spirits high and I felt that everything would be ok. However, further dismay followed as the treatment produced a reverse effect and made the tumour more malignant (aggressive). Although too much to take in at a short space of time, I decided to make sure the problem was gone for good by proceeding with a below knee amputation.
So not only did I have the challenge of beating cancer, but I had to accept the fact that my prospects of leading a normal life will be affected even more with surgery. I travelled to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham on bonfire night where I last played with a football. My surgery was the next day, and it was upsetting that I had to go through this. My surgeon, Dr. Grimer, ensured that having a handicap is not the end of the world. There were plenty of great people integrated in society who leads a normal life and with the improvement of scientific technology; life with a prosthetic limb has improved (better than a wooden stick like in those old pirate films as I first pictured myself to be in). It is said that I was fortunate to have made a quick decision with my surgery, as pondering any longer and I would have lost my knee due to the growing tumour. This would have made my life even harder in the future.
I encountered some problems after the surgery, which was quite common to amputees. These issues included nerve or phantom pains, which gave me weird sensations within the stump. Then there was my own conscience which regularly forgets that I had a missing limb, causing me to fall down from time to time. All these issues are something which I had to get use to in due time. The main action for me was to leave my stump to fully heal before I started toughening it up.
After about a month to recover from my surgery, I began my new intense chemotherapy treatment early December prescribed by my new consultant, Dr. Trauneker. I was to have nine cycles, where each treatment cycle consisted of two parts. This left me at a very fragile and weak state afterwards leaving me in hospital most of the time which I admit, was quite demoralising. It was difficult at first, as it felt like I was adding more salt to my wounds. However, even with my loss, I still had the support from other sufferers, nurses, doctors, family and friends. Having someone to talk to and who is in a similar situation can help with your mental health. You will no doubt go through some rough patches in hospital, so being able to share your problems and issues can relieve some frequent frustrations during treatment.
At the quarter stage of my chemotherapy, life began to pick up for the better, where my personal prosthetic limb was given to me from Rookwood Hospital. My stump was still fresh and my body was weak, but the determination to walk again allowed me to have a few steps in walking bars. My hopes and dreams were lifted at that moment, and I was motivated more than ever to get better as soon as possible.
I later began taking simple steps with the aid of a walking frame which helped with my balance and eased considerable amount of pressure off my stump. My physiotherapy sessions were taken in between my chemotherapy treatments so things had to be taken slowly with my fragile state. As expected, my stump was rather uncomfortable as it was weak and not used to having a prosthetic limb on. In about two months later, I upgraded to walking sticks which, although did not provide much easing of pressure, allowed more self control with the prosthetic limb.
My chemotherapy finally finished on the 7th July 2003 and although I had a sigh of relief, reality hit back at me where I only had two months to recover before joining back to school. It was difficult at first, as I had not fully recovered when I started school again, but my friends and family willed me on. This motivation helped my determination to aim high in life, allowing me to gain good grades at GCSEs and A Levels, and more recently, graduating from University.
It is over eight years since hearing news that I had cancer, but I never let having cancer put me down; not then and certainly not now. I hope I have shown that even with the disease and my handicap, that people in my position are capable of many great things. I apologise if my past experience is of no help, but I wanted to show you that there are other people out there who are suffering the same disease and battle, so you are not alone!
Dealing with cancer is not a pleasant time, for both the patient and the family. Apart from approaching issues in a POSITIVE manner, I always felt that having a GOAL IN MIND can help with your determination and attitude towards the treatment. Having some sort of a DISTRACTION from the problems can help you pass through the time at hospital. This could be in the form of meeting new FRIENDS in hospital or even taking up a HOBBY whilst in the ward. I understand that it can be frustrating at times, but family, friends, nurses and doctors are there to HELP you. Don't take it out on them, as you'll only be pushing away the people who CARE for you most. Especially the Nurses and Doctors, who have helped previous cancer sufferers before you, so don't doubt their expertise. They do know what they are doing! I wish this has been of some help, and have given you the drive to get through this ordeal.