Eilish was only 15 when she found out she had cancer. Today, she is running the London Marathon for Teenage Cancer Trust. Read her story here:
I’d had a lump in my neck which spread across my tonsils and my airwaves, so I had an operation to remove it. It left me without feeling in half of my neck. Within 10 days I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer - Nodular Lymphocyte Predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma. I didn’t know what it was to start with. It all happened so quickly.
I was treated at UCLH and I had low grade chemo which was meant to be less aggressive. Unfortunately, I reacted badly to it and the treatment was worse than I expected. I lost my hair and I got mucositis which kept delaying my treatment.
When I was going through treatment I was just so focused on finishing that my mental health was ok. After I was told I was in remission I really struggled to come to terms with the whirlwind of emotions I was feeling. Obviously, I was so happy as I was cancer free, but I was also feeling lonely and isolated. I love my friends and family to bits, but I felt like no-one could relate to what I had been through as much as they tried to.
I felt like everyone just expected me to go back to being 'normal', if that was even possible after you've been through something so life changing. I also felt guilty for surviving and felt guilty for being unhappy when I was healthy when there were so many people who weren't as lucky as me or were still fighting. I felt like I shouldn't be struggling because I didn't have the right to as my situation could have been a lot worse. I battled with this for a long time and went around and around in circles. No one warned me of the mental battle you also have to face and that is really difficult.
I agreed to see a counsellor but after one session I decided it wasn't for me. I found it really hard to open up to someone who, in my eyes, didn't understand what I was going through. I needed to talk to someone who I could chat to without feeling like I had to sum up in a couple of words how I was feeling in that particular moment.
Luckily, Teenage Cancer Trust recognises that your battle doesn’t end as soon as your treatment does and that the mental battle is just as hard as the physical one. The Clinical Nurse Specialist from Teenage Cancer Trust talked to me about Find Your Sense of Tumour (FYSOT), their three-day gathering which brings together young people who have experienced cancer. She thought it would help me come to terms with how I was feeling.
Going to something like that without anyone I knew was a bit out of my comfort zone, but my mum convinced me that it would be good for me. I’m so glad I went as it was the first step in me coming to terms with what I had been through and I left feeling a lot more confident.
It was the first time I had spent time with any other young people who had had a cancer diagnosis. This helped improve my confidence in speaking about the things I was struggling with. I was in a really relaxed environment and I could chat to people about the side effects I had suffered and was still suffering and relate to them about experiences they had also been through. This gave me so much peace knowing I wasn't abnormal for thinking the things I was or feeling the way I was. The weekend gave me more confidence in chatting and making friendships with people who had been in a similar situation. Before I was diagnosed I was quite shy anyway and the diagnosis just knocked my confidence even more, but FYSOT was the first step I took to rebuild it.
The weekend was also really informative about many things I was worrying about. We got to choose which speeches we went to, which was great as the experts covered a lot of the questions I didn’t want to ask at check-ups in front of my mum. No words describe how glad I am I went, and I’d recommend to anyone to attend if they can.
I also got to go to Teenage Cancer Trust’s the Way Forward event which had talks on things like employment, diet and fertility. I felt really comfortable around the other young people and felt happy to ask questions in front of them. I hadn’t been able to ask the questions at my doctor’s appointment as I felt so emotional still.
Now, if I am worried about anything, I speak to the friends I met at those events, so it is so important that Teenage Cancer Trust put young people in touch that way.
I found as soon as I started to be open about how I was feeling and talking to other young people about it my mental health improved. I started to accept what I had been through and started to turn it into a positive thing rather than seeing it as a negative.
That’s when I started to take on fundraising challenges and I’ve decided to run the Virgin Money London Marathon for Teenage Cancer Trust because I wanted to thank them for their support and give something back.
I’ve never done a marathon before, but I like having a goal to work towards. I like running, biking, and going to the gym, so I am confident that I will do it.
I am healthy and in a really good position in life to do this; I’ve lost friends along the way who haven’t had the chance to do anything like this or live life, so I am doing this for them too. I’ll also be running for all those friends I’ve got who are still battling or who are in remission like me. They’re all still fighting too; just because you’re in remission doesn’t mean your battle is over, the emotions are all still there.