Young bone cancer survivor
How my journey with cancer began
When I was 15 and in year 10 at school, I started experiencing swelling and pain just below my right knee. After a few months of unhelpful physiotherapy I finally visited my GP, and had an x-ray that revealed the source of my pain – I had a growth at the top of my tibia. This was a life changing moment, and I now know the feeling of having my world turned upside-down. I was booked in to see an oncologist at the Women’s and Children’s hospital the next day.
Everything seemed to happen much quicker after that. There was no waiting around for months to find out what was wrong. At first, I clung to the hope that it was just an infection, but blood tests showed that was not a possibility. The next few weeks were a blur.
I had all types of scans: MRI, CT, GFR, echocardiograms, chest x-rays, bone scans – considering I’d never been to hospital before this, I was pretty freaked out. I finally had a biopsy which revealed that I had osteosarcoma. I had a port put in to administer chemotherapy. And then, of course, I had the chemotherapy.
"Overall, my treatment lasted for 9 months"
I had to have a joint replacement to remove the tumour, and that was probably the scariest part of the whole experience. Losing my hair was distressing at first, but once I was used to being bald I liked it, especially in the warmer months. I bought a wig but never wore it; I figured that I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I have cancer by wearing a wig, because I did nothing to deserve it. I was walking funny anyway, and so what other people thought didn’t matter to me. Having cancer was probably the first time in my life when I could focus all of my energy on myself without feeling guilty. My only goal was to get through my treatment and recover, and so that was what I did.
I was treated at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, and I still look back on my experience there with fondness, despite my reasons for being there.
My doctor was fantastic – he always listened to me and made sure my questions were answered, and my problems solved. Everyone was so caring and understanding on that oncology team, and I always felt that I was in good hands. The nursing staff on Brookman ward became my friends. They talked to me on an adult level, which I didn’t expect on a children’s ward. They were fantastic nurses and made my stays in hospital so much easier.
"Having cancer at such a young age was obviously not something that I was prepared for"
It is easy to say now that I am grateful for the experience, because I have learnt so much and made friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but at the time there was nothing I wanted more than to be healthy.
I certainly wouldn’t have had the same experience had it not been for the support I received from organisations such as CanTeen and Camp Quality, along with the social workers and nurses at the hospital. It was helpful for me to be around people who understood what I was going through, so connecting with other adolescents who had cancer was exactly what I needed. I began seeing the humour in my situation, something which I’ve found many young patients have in common. We all seem to have that one friend who thinks cancer is contagious, or that one nurse who empties your bedpan at the exact moment your friends have chosen to visit. These stories helped me to cope with my extremely serious illness, and I still smile when I think of them, even now.
"Finishing treatment was the hardest part"
The absolute hardest part for me was finishing treatment, which I know seems odd. For me, it was almost the exact opposite of that day my GP said the word “growth” – my world was turned back the right way all too suddenly. I spent 9 months fighting for my life, and after it was over, I didn’t know where I fit anymore. I went back to school after a semester’s absence, and I found it difficult to concentrate and even harder to stay motivated. I felt different, and it was strange to me that nobody noticed the changes. Life after cancer was hard for me, because I had to deal with many emotions that I chose not to face during treatment. It took a while for me to ask for help, and only then was I able to start moving on.
Life after cancer
It has been almost 7 years since I was diagnosed, and so far the highlight has been reaching my 5 years and being declared cancer free. It was an enormous relief, and I was surprised how important it was to me. Some people would rather forget their cancer experience, but I prefer to remember. It was a significant time in my life, and I feel like I am a better person because of it.