My surgeon told me that he would try his hardest to get me back walking again, to get me into a pair of high heels again and to get rid of the bone cancer so that I won’t have to deal with cancer again. Who would’ve thought that he could make a 15 year old cancer patient feel so calm? Although I didn’t know it then, I know now that these are the moments that have shaped me. The moments that contribute to the reason I wish to one day become a surgeon. That night I stayed up watching knee replacement surgeries on YouTube, my parents thought it was weird - it was - but it fascinated me. This is why the best work experience I will ever have as a healthcare professional, is being a patient myself.
At 15 years old I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my knee and thigh. I had been having a tiny pain in my knee for 2 years every 4 months until finally I was underperforming in sport and couldn’t bare weight on my leg.
My knee was swollen, hot and painful, yet I was diagnosed with “growing pains” and to “keep expecting the pain to happen”. So for a year I did just that.
I carried on my sprinting and hurdling training. A year later my knee was swollen to the size of a melon over night. Within a week I was sent to a specialist hospital in Germany (protocol for Cyprus), where I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in March 2015.
I began a gruelling schedule of chemotherapies. They were high dose chemotherapies given into a line, which meant that for the next year and a half of my life, my home was the hospital. The side effects are horrendous.
Ironically, the treatment that saves your life makes you feel like you’re dying.
I lost my hair (but I didn’t mind that too much, I rocked my bald head.) I had constant nausea and vomiting, lethargy that made me sleep all day long, I lost 15 kilos and I didn’t have the strength to walk. The list of symptoms are endless. What I lost in physical strength however, I gained in mental strength. The positive mindset that I upheld throughout my treatment is still how I live life today. I don’t think I could’ve got through my treatment without looking to the future. It was during chemotherapy that I first thought I may want to become a doctor. I ended up focusing on doing 5 GSCEs, in comparison to my peers in school who were doing 11. But I knew, I would only need 5 to get into medical school.
I had intense surgery where surgeons worked very hard to save my leg. The evening before my life-saving surgery, my surgeon stopped by my room to say goodnight and to tell me the risks and plan for my surgery. Two possible surgical outcomes: amputation or endoprosthesis.
The surgery was long and gruelling but the surgeon walked out with a big smile on his face. I now have a knee and thigh replacement, a few missing quadriceps muscles and still have my own patella!I had a quick rehabilitation process thanks to a strict physiotherapy schedule and learnt to walk, or rather, hobble, again within a month. Despite the massive victory of keeping my leg and getting through the surgery, I still had another 6 months of chemotherapy to go and another 10 months of treatment.
It felt like a never-ending track of hurdles. I kept hobbling over each one but I wasn’t sure how many more I could overcome.
After being treated in Cyprus for a few months, I transferred my care to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh as my mum is from Scotland. I carried on with chemotherapy and was given immunotherapy too. On Christmas Eve of 2015 I was discharged from hospital in time for Christmas. I probably shouldn’t have gone home, I fainted on Christmas Day, but my doctors understood that my mental health would suffer if I had stayed. I can’t thank them enough for getting me home that day.
All I had left was immunotherapy to do. A breeze in comparison to chemotherapy. I was in hospital every week, twice a week for 6 months. Despite still being a “sick kid”, my hair started to grow back, I started to get some colour back in my skin, my nails started to regrow, I started to gain weight and I was finally able to stay awake to study for my exams. I ended up getting 4 National 5s (GCSE equivalent in Scotland) and I got A’s. Personally, this is one of my biggest achievements and contributes to the strong work ethic I still pride myself on today.
Let’s fast forward to 2020. Having cancer has shaped me as an individual: positive, resilient, grateful and determined. I am now nearly 5 years cancer free and so grateful. However, understandably my experience with cancer has left physical and mental scars. Every time I have a scan, I prepare myself for the worst. Every time I see a possible symptom of cancer I always think, what if it’s come back?
I will never sugarcoat my experience with cancer, it sucked all the life out of me and still affects me, but I am now loving life and have my future ahead of me.
I can confirm I can walk again, wear heels again and am able to run around the hospital on my feet all day. Except this time I’m not a patient in hospital, I’m a medical student at the University of Manchester and I beat cancers butt.