Hope After Cancer Victoria's story
Victoria (she/her) - White British
Diagnosed in 2020 - Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
I am a survivor. I am brave. I am deserving.
I was three weeks into my second year at Lancaster University in October 2020, studying Geography when I had gone to get a blood test as I’d been having PCOS symptoms.
Later that day I was contacted to attend a hospital appointment for the next morning. It was at this appointment that I was told I had leukaemia and I was asked where I wanted to go for treatment.
It’s a lot to take in at once and all these worries, like what about my studies, my belongings, my friends. We decided it was best I went home to be closer to my family and I was admitted to Addenbrooke’s Teenage Cancer Trust Ward three days later.
Luckily, I had my friends and family to take up the responsibility of me just completely leaving my life as I knew it behind. I went through four cycles of chemotherapy before I had a CAR-T cell transplant. Like most people I had lots of side effects, not limiting to loss of feeling in hands and feet, nausea, bowel problems, hair loss, fatigue, weakness.
During my transplant when I was admitted to the ICU for four days, I was the most scared I’d ever been, surrounded by nurses I didn’t know and struggling with high fevers, low blood pressure, sickness and headaches. I also struggled with inflamed joints which restricted my movement and I had severe meningitis a week before Christmas 2020.
Life post cancer was equally daunting and exciting for me. I went from being in hospital all the time to going once a week, then once a fortnight then once a month. I felt a bit lost because my life went from revolving around my illness to having a newfound freedom that I didn’t know what to do with because I remained physically limited for a long time from the treatment.
"I was excited because I felt cancer gave me a new perspective on my life, it shifted my priorities and I revisited hobbies that I used to love that I now had time for."
One adjustment was figuring out how to make plans again. While I was having treatment, I stopped making plans because being sick was like a full time job and I couldn’t mentally handle the idea of making plans only to be faced with disappointment as they didn’t work out because no I wasn’t actually going to be able to travel to see my boyfriend in a couple of months, recovering from cancer isn’t that quick.
So I cultivated hope in being able to make plans again to see my friends, to travel and to do the things I loved again.
I learnt to be kind to myself and how to set realistic expectations, even if it was just getting dressed and spending the day downstairs instead of in bed. I learnt to be ok with that, it was enough.
I took part in the 8 week Move Against Cancer programme and gained confidence in my body image and how my body had changed from treatment. A year on from remission, normal is starting to feel like before cancer.
I still speak to my Teenage Cancer Trust counsellor every week and they are one of the biggest sources of encouragement and positivity in my life.
Knowing people who have experienced cancer through Life After Cancer groups keeps my experienced normalised for me, as I can read every day about others who I can relate to.
An example I think back to was a discussion about sensitive skin and allergies developing post-treatment; members were sharing how that aspect had changed for them and how they had to change products to prevent reactions.
Sharing ‘scanxieties’ and helping each other deal with that, it may seem small to people who haven’t had cancer but to me it makes so much difference having peers who can understand what you dealt with and continue to deal with.