I had been having very strong pain and limited mobility for a few months in my left shoulder, which made work and University very difficult to keep up with.
All my mates were telling me I was moaning a bit too much about some muscle pain!
I'd checked with the GP who had agreed with me and thought it was muscular damage, so after lots of painkillers and a month of physiotherapy, I was surprised to see no improvement to the pain or the mobility of the shoulder.
I was told to get an X-ray, where the shoulder was shown to be badly fractured and the surrounding bone showed clear signs of bone cancer. I spent the next day in the fracture clinic at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, fully aware that this was serious, and I could write off continuing studies for the time being. Within days, I had had all the scans needed and was booked in for a biopsy at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital the next week. By this point I was certain it would be serious and knew I would be unable to study, so I had stepped down from my role managing the Brass Band at University and had sorted out a deferral of studies with the Maths department, two extremely difficult things to be forced to stop doing.
The results confirmed what I had expected that I had an osteosarcoma tumour in my left shoulder. I’d packed my stuff and returned to Leeds, where I had all the pre chemotherapy assessment in advance of my treatment starting in the new year.
I finished my chemotherapy on the 6th September and had the final surgery on the 26th October.
My chemotherapy started in the middle of January (Just in time for my birthday!), and it’s safe to say that I did not have the greatest first month and a half, where it seemed that everything that could have gone wrong, did.
It was through this cycle that I was told that there were growths on my lungs that needed monitoring and sorting after the chemotherapy was done, which really was scary news. Thankfully, the next cycle went swimmingly and I was ready to get myself home when I was told an update ahead of the upcoming surgery - that due to the position of the tumour, surgically removing it would be impossible and that the only option to remove the tumour would be to amputate the entire left arm.
This news hit me very hard, as I was aware now that things would never go back to normal, yet at the same time I was completely accepting that it needed to happen.
The amputation went ahead in April, which all went very well and left me with a very neat scar! After that, I finished the chemotherapy over the next 5 months, with most of it going as well as I could have asked for, and upon finishing that, only had the thoracotomy to go. The surgery went ahead towards the back end of October, with no complications. This marked the end of my treatment, spanning 11 months from the original X-ray, but felt like a lifetime ago.
The largest positive in my very long cancer story without a doubt has to be the amazing people I met along the way, patients, nurses, doctors, hospital staff, every single one of them really helped out on my journey and I won’t forget them. The ways in which all my friends supported me and refused to treat me differently helped me get on with it all and feel as close to normal as I could, which was extremely helpful when I couldn’t have visitors due to COVID-19. As well as that, the amount of support from people I otherwise didn’t talk to much showed to me how many great people I know.
Altering to life with cancer and an amputation seems very tricky on the outside, but the easiest thing to do is to throw yourself into it as much as you can, push yourself to not just stay in bed, as getting yourself to do things benefits physically and mentally. I look forward to when the pandemic eases off so that I can really get used to things even more.
As I mentioned as one of the positives I could take from this, mainly other people gave me strength to get on with the treatment. Having so many people to talk to kept me sane in the many days I spent in hospital! I would love to name everyone specifically but there are too many names - those of you should really know that I mean you though.
My message has to be to keep on going, make the best out of a terrible situation, and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s definitely not easy but you are never dealing with anything by yourself, and you never need to keep how you’re feeling to yourself.
The importance of an early diagnosis for any cancer can’t be stressed enough, in a strange way I was very lucky that my shoulder fractured otherwise I dread to think how long it would’ve been before I thought it was more than muscle pain. Self check ups are extremely important, and whenever something feels off, it is always worth having it checked by a professional.
Matthew sadly passed away, 16th February 2022, aged 22.
Matthew's Dad, Gary, has shared the below:
Prior to Matthew passing, he wished for his body to be left to medical science, a decision that truly showed how selfless a person he was, in the hope that studying his cancer may help save someone in the future. Matthew passed in Leeds at St James's hospital, but they were unable to take his body due to the cancer. However, he was accepted by the National Repository Centre at Nottingham University Hospitals, a specialist cancer surgeon training centre, so he managed to get back to the place he called "home".
Raising awareness of bone cancer is just one vital element in the process of survival, in my opinion, detecting the symptoms at an early stage, especially in younger people, would increase survival rates and hopefully reduce the number of families going through the daily heartache we feel since Matthew passed away.
Another key element will be raising the profile of the work the Bone Cancer Research Trust do and obtaining much needed funds to improve research and development, thus bringing the treatments used on bone cancer up-to-date and hopefully making them more effective.