The spine-tingling word that people hate hearing. The C-word: Cancer.
I’m going to be talking about Cancer. It’s not going to be a depressing post, I promise. I’m going to share my experience of my Brother’s battle with Cancer. An experience many of us have faced or are facing right now. I’ve never really liked talking about it and I never really bring it up in conversation. But this year, my brother has beaten Cancer for the third time and it felt necessary to start speaking about it comfortably.
Sadly, although it is such a common disease, I still think there is an awkward stigma around Cancer. People don’t know what to say or how to respond when it’s the topic of conversation. Especially, if it’s directly affecting you. When someone confides in you, you can usually find some sound advice and support. But, it seems we are all lost for words when someone or one of their loved ones has been diagnosed with Cancer. I don’t think there is a ‘correct’ way to deal with it or respond to it, which can make it even harder.
Everyone deals with it differently and it can be totally life-consuming. I don’t believe the battle with Cancer is over when someone is cured. You are left scarred and anxious. You're left with all these memories that you can't forget. This is why I think it’s important to talk about Cancer and your experience with it. This is usually something I try to avoid; it makes me blubber and feel uneasy. Even though it has shaped the majority of my life.
So, here goes...
At the age of 2, my younger Brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). Being 5 myself, I had no idea what was going on. He started off in Northampton General Hospital and then he got transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which is an amazing children’s specialist hospital. I have lots of memories of growing up in this hospital. Good and bad. I think this is why I absolutely hate being in hospitals now. It makes me feel all woozy and weird.
I lived with my Grand-Parents whilst he received all of his treatment as my Mum would stay in Birmingham with him and my Dad had to work. I would travel up on the weekends with my Dad to visit. Because of this, I have an amazing relationship with my Grandparents. And my whole family, really.
What is AML?
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia is a form of Leukaemia which is basically Cancer of the white blood cells in your body. However, it is very rare in found in Children. ‘Acute’ meaning it develops rapidly and aggressively.
My brother had months of Chemotherapy to try and kill off the Cancer. The side effects of Chemotherapy can be what leads to someone being more unwell than the actual Cancer itself. Hair loss, consistent vomiting, weakness, increased chance of infection... There was a time my brother had to be kept in isolation and he wasn’t allowed any visitor’s in case of an infection spreading. This was hard to comprehend at the time.
Following 6 months of chemotherapy and getting the all clear, he relapsed and was given a 30% chance of survival. 30%. I didn’t know this at the time and was totally shocked when I found out. What are you even supposed to do when you are told your child has a 30% chance of living? It's unimaginable. So scary. He had to undergo Chemotherapy again along with total body radiation, before having a Bone Marrow Transplant. The side effects of radiotherapy are awful: Skin damage, swelling, blistering, itching.
Bone Marrow Transplant
It was at this point he needed a Bone-Marrow Transplant. This is where the damaged cells are replaced with healthy ones from a blood match. The immediate family is tested for a blood match first before reaching out to the public. Amazingly, both my Mum and I came back as a match. Somehow, I remember receiving this phone call and we were so so happy. A glimmer of hope, finally. As I was only 7 and also his sibling, my match was stronger so the Doctors wanted to use my Bone Marrow… I’m all for this! And I’d do it again.
I had to undergo a general aesthetic where they took some of my Bone Marrow which had my stem cells in. This then got transplanted into my Brother after he’d finished Chemo and Radiotherapy. To start with, his body began rejecting my Bone Marrow which would mean he would die. This rejection has left him with gut, skin, eye and liver problems. After a while, his body accepted my cells and we now share the same DNA. Weird thought! And amazing.
He’s 18, nearly 19, well, (and a typical teenage boy). This all seemed like a nightmare of the past. Until, January this year, he had a mole removed on his back. The mole was sent off for testing, just to check it was ok. It came back showing Melanoma. A type of Skin Cancer. You’re thinking, when will this end? So am I too. I hope it is the end. This was a big wake up call. Being older and understanding the situation was a lot different this time around. I felt like I should've known how to deal with it, but really, I felt useless. It really hit me that time is precious and so are the people around you.
Luckily, since then all of the affected skin containing Cancer has been removed and he has been given the all clear. Again.
Sadly, my Grandad suffers from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), a different type of Leukaemia affecting the Bone Marrow. He has to go for regular blood tests to check it is under control. He was diagnosed in 2012 and is keeping fairly well.
Without preaching, life is short and you really don't know what's around the corner. Be grateful and appreciate everyone around you. I know too many people that have been affected by Cancer. And it isn't fair, but all you can do is live for now and beyond it. Make the most of every day and every opportunity.
If you are thinking about donating blood - do it. Do it, do it, do it! It matters so much and can easily change someone's life. Anthony Nolan is also an amazing cause which helps people with blood cancer and disorders find their perfect match. Do check out these pages if you are thinking about donating. You won't regret it.
- My tattoo of the Give Blood symbol.