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Surviving childhood lymphoma

When Amy was 11 she was diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). She tells us her story of her diagnosis and treatment and reflects on life now.

Amy and family

My diagnosis

I had a swollen lymph node in my groin for about 2 months before I was diagnosed. It didn’t improve with antibiotics and eventually I became quite weak and had difficulty walking. A biopsy showed I had NHL. I remember my mum telling me I had cancer. I thought I was going to die. But mum talked about the treatment I was going to have and explained that I would be fine. I never doubted what she said and this positive attitude helped throughout my treatment.

Treatment

I had chemotherapy for about 6 months and I also needed some surgery. The worst thing was losing my hair. I remember the nurse telling me it would fall out as a side effect of chemotherapy. I was upset but I didn’t want to cry in front of her. I ended up choosing a bright red wig, which became a bit of a talking point!

The hospital was not near my home and so although family visited, my friends couldn’t. But many wrote which helped me to feel connected with the outside world and stopped me from feeling left behind. My mum stayed with me for almost all of my treatment. I think this must have been difficult for my brother and sister as it meant they didn’t get to spend much time with her.

Getting back to normal

I had most of my treatment during the summer holidays but I ended up missing my first term of secondary school. I had a home tutor so I didn’t feel too behind when I went back to school in the January. It helped going to a new school as people didn’t know me before I was ill and so I felt I could be a ‘new’ person.

A nurse came to school with me for a special assembly to discuss what I had been through and help answer any questions. I was never singled out at school. Although everyone knew I’d had cancer, no one ever really asked about it – not even about the red wig! Although it was tiring when I first went back, I soon got into the swing of things. I worked hard as I felt I wanted to prove myself and didn’t want to be different.

To begin with I hated going back to the hospital for my follow up appointments as it brought back lots of memories of being ill. My appointments got moved to my local hospital which made it easier. What I did find really helpful was some weekends away with other teenagers who had also had cancer. It was useful to share my experiences with people my own age.

Twelve years on

I don’t tend to think too much about my cancer now. In fact it can feel like it happened to someone else. I don’t have any long term effects from my treatment apart from a couple of scars from where I had my surgery. I remember when I was ill thinking how great it must be just to feel well. This encourages me not to take my health for granted and to try to lead a healthy life. I also feel I want to ‘give something back’ and have taken part in a number of challenges to raise money for cancer research.

Factfile

  • Cancer in children is quite rare. About 1,700 children are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year
  • More children than ever are surviving cancer. Around 7 out of 10 children are cured
  • There are around 26,000 childhood cancer survivors in Britain
  • Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are the main treatments for most childhood cancers

There is some information about children’s cancers on CancerHelp UK.

Sharing your story

The Your tips and stories section of CancerHelp UK provides tips and support for people currently coping with cancer and treatment. You can use the Your tips and stories contribution form to tell us how you coped, so that other people with cancer, or their families, can gain help and support from your stories.

Some people help Cancer Research UK by sharing their stories in other ways – talking to the media, appearing in a Cancer Research UK advert, speaking to volunteers or being featured on our website. Read more about sharing your story.

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Updated: 18 November 2010