On the 2 August 2014 I competed in a Half Ironman race in Fishguard. During the race, my chest felt tight and I was struggling to get my breathing right, but somehow I managed to complete it. My symptoms got worse and I was struggling to eat, breath or sleep. The doctor had diagnosed me with a throat infection, but after 2 weeks of battling with these symptoms, I couldn’t take it. I went to A&E in Withybush Hospital, and after a couple of days was transferred to Morriston Hospital, where I had a biopsy.
The consultant called us into a room, where he told me I was being transferred to University Hospital Wales, in Cardiff. He didn’t say anything else, just got up and left the room. We were confused, and had no idea what was going on. A nurse came in and asked if he had told us the news. We said no. She sat down, and told us that I had acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a type of cancer.
It sounds like a cliché, but as soon as she said the word ‘cancer’, my mind switched off. I couldn’t process any information after that, all I could focus on was that word. It had all happened so quickly, from taking part in the half ironman and being at peak physical fitness, to being told I had this life-threatening illness.
The atmosphere was so welcoming, the staff so friendly. I spend a day on the adult haematology ward, and it felt like a factory of people coming in and out. The staff were amazing of course, but I would’ve really struggled to have all my treatment there.
I was on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit receiving intensive treatment for around 6-8 months, which felt like a lifetime. At the start of my treatment I kept myself to myself, I was shy. As time went on I got to know the other young people on the unit, and we established a little community. Some of those people are still with us, but inevitably some passed away, which was very hard.
After my intensive treatment, I was put on a maintenance scheme, meaning lower dose treatment lasting 3 years. This involved a hit of chemo every month and a lumbar puncture every 3 months – this is a type of test, where they put a needle into the lower part of your spine.
Whilst on the maintenance scheme I made a close-knit group of friends. We meet up, go out, and even go to festivals together. It’s so beneficial having a group of people who know what you went through, and who you can talk to about anything. There were 7 of us, but sadly now there are 5.
In December 2017, I finally finished my treatment. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The relief to have got to the end was huge, but I’d built up such strong relationships with the Teenage Cancer Trust team. Going in for the last time and saying goodbye to the nurses was really hard, knowing that I might not see them again after they’d played such a special and crucial part in the last four years of my life.
Before I was diagnosed I was a part-time student, and working part-time in a mechanical engineering firm. I was really sporty, and enjoyed playing football, cricket, running, cycling – you name it. After my diagnosis, my brother could see how amazing the support from Teenage Cancer Trust was. He decided to take on the Wales Ironman as well to raise money for the charity.
I was at home, and I felt stuck. I was waking up just to count down the minutes to go back to sleep so I ended up having counselling, which didn’t help. I really needed to clear my head, so I decided to go out for a run – just one mile, and it really helped me. The next day I did another mile, and gradually I started building up until I got to half marathon distance. I decided that I’d want to take on the Virgin Money London Marathon, one of the most iconic races in the world, and when I found out that Teenage Cancer Trust was the main charity partner, it made perfect sense.
Now I’m a Lead Designer at the same mechanical engineering firm that had employed me six months before my diagnosis. My girlfriend Rachel, who I was with for over a year before I was diagnosed, stuck by me, and will be cheering for me on the day, along with my mum, dad, brother and his girlfriend.