At 15 years old, I had 18 months of treatment for Neuroblastoma.
I couldn’t wait for the day I finished treatment; I saw it as the ‘finish line’ but this was actually far from the reality. When treatment finished, I didn’t feel how I expected to feel. People think it is all over when treatment finishes but, in reality, there are so many challenges, emotionally and physically, still to face. It isn’t as easy as picking up where you left off: I felt different and I felt I had lost my direction in life. However, it is possible to have a life after cancer - it is difficult but with the right mindset and determination the sky is your limit!
It has been 10 years since my diagnosis. Despite the long-term side effects I suffer with, I have achieved so much: I passed my driving test, finished my A-levels, I then went on to train as a paediatric nurse - I qualified in 2016 with a first class degree, and I even got an award for the care I provided for the children and their families.
Coping with the long-term side effects:
• Pace yourself! Get to know your own body and what you can manage. If you feel you need to rest, then listen to your body - looking after yourself is very important.
• Trial different things to manage long-term side effects until you find what works for you. I have chronic pain as a result of the location of the tumour and treatment. Although it’s hard, I have learnt to live with it and now have a toolkit on what helps.
• Don’t let setbacks hold you back! You will have hurdles, which you think you can’t overcome but you can! After all, you have got through gruelling cancer treatment. You have more strength and determination than you realise.
Coping with mental health problems after treatment finishes:
• Do not suppress your emotions: it is okay to feel sad, angry, frustrated etc. You have been through and are going through an extremely tough journey, so these feelings are completely normal. Speak to people close to you and find ways to express your emotions in your own way; I have found therapeutic writing has helped and the beauty is that you don’t even have to show anyone if you don’t want to.
• Try to focus on the things you can control, else life will become overwhelming and will make it so much harder to move forwards. Living with long term side-effects is hard, so focus on the ways that you can manage with them everyday. For example, if you suffer with fatigue then make sure that you get enough sleep and pace yourself. Looking after your mental well-being is a very important of managing long-term side effects.
• There may be things that you can't do now, but try and focus on the things you CAN do. Don't be hard on yourself if you can't do what you used to.
• Life after cancer can be filled with loads of negatives, but try and focus on the positives.
How to move on after cancer:
• Set goals small and then work your way up. Set a plan on what you want to do and what you want to achieve and how you would go about it. I started with things that made me gain my independence again and then worked up to bigger things. Go at your own speed and aim to keep moving forward, even if it's tiny steps.
• Use your difficult experiences to your advantage. Although you may feel that you are at a disadvantage to people who haven’t been through cancer, it has given me a totally different perspective on life. I am certain that my life would be very different now if I didn’t go through the cancer experience; I definitely wouldn’t have become a nurse and it has made me a stronger, better version of myself!
• Don’t feel the pressure to act like your cancer didn’t happen. After all, it's very traumatic and happened at such an important stage of your life, and you are likely to have long term side effects that you need to learn to cope with.
• Remember, even if you feel like your confidence has diminished and that you are a shell of your former self, your confidence will grow as time moves on. I was extremely shy post treatment, but now I’ve got so much confidence and I am completely different - you wouldn’t think I was the same person!
• As well as focusing on your ambitions, remember the importance of spending time with family and friends. A good balance is very important- but remember only do what you can manage!