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The thing about cancer is immediately when you hear it, you automatically connect it to the word “death”.

  • Patient Name: Darren
  • Cancer Type: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
  • Age when diagnosed:

Cancer diagnosis

16th April 2018

Darren boy wearing black cap

The Big “C”

The thing about cancer is immediately when you hear it, you automatically connect it to the word “death”. It is a psychological switch that turns itself on at the very moment the word reaches your ears and it is very difficult to switch it off. This is why when people talk about the subject they try to lessen the impact by calling it the “Big C” – by not mentioning the name in its most ghastly form it somehow deviates from what it could potentially mean.

I know this is not the most positive start to a blog but I want to convey, whether you are young or old, just exactly what we all know to be true if we are told we have Cancer – it is a killer.

Or is it?

You see, when I was 11 I was told I had leukaemia. Not exactly straight to the point as saying you have cancer but I was old enough to make the connection – and of course that connection to “sorry sonny, your time might be up soon”. In fact I can remember vividly that the first words out of my mouth when I was told was simply “I am going to die”. Quite a poignant moment for a young lad, but not the most helpful of things to say when sat in an outpatient ward with a load of other kids.

 But what can you do?

That switch turns itself on and you go into meltdown mode.

The silly thing was I didn’t expect to be told that. It was a bit weird being told I needed to go to hospital because of the bruises all down my body and the little red pinpricks that had started to appear – but certainly it didn’t conjure up an image of the next 6 months being a patient at the Royal Marsden. Even when my parents and I were taken through the doors of the hospital, they still say even now that at that point the connection wasn’t made.

So you can imagine the shock I felt when the good doctor uttered those words.

Where do you go from there?

A relatively healthy kid who had just started secondary school and taking part in sports as much as he could, to then being reduced to someone who was going to become quite weak and very thin in the space of a few weeks. At the point of being told you obviously don’t know what lies ahead – stupidly you are too busy measuring yourself up for the coffin without giving the hard working and dedicated people at the hospital a chance.

But then you get over that moment and you do start to find nuggets of positivity. Not being able to go to school? Yep that will suit me. TV above your bed with endless channels? Sign me up. A kitchen on call whenever you feel hungry? Yep, I will have a fifth Sunday roast please – and don’t skimp on the potatoes.

This was the start of my journey

It seems stupid thinking about it now, but my attitude was if this is happening to me I might as well get some advantage out of it (an ethos I have also used for my hearing loss but we will come to that another time). Of course, there are low points right at the beginning. Some of the medication was absolutely disgusting, to the point of child cruelty! You also had the issue of the hair falling out. My grandad found some positivity in this – the more I kept pulling it out and saving it in a plastic cup, the more I thought I was helping him with his own bald issues.

You also have the moments you appreciate more as an adult than you do as a child. The nurses who are happily willing to talk to about subjects ranging from football through to your parents insistence that I would have to go down to the school room at some point – secretly the nurses were in support of my dedication to the Sega Mega Drive and Sonic the Hedgehog. Also, the times you did feel a bit sad and needed a bit of reassurance and a pep talk before downing another vile pot of liquid.

More importantly the doctors who treated you like an adult – who sat with you on their rounds and explained everything that was happening both now and in the future. At the time you are hoping they would go away soon as you had the TV to watch. But now, I really do value the importance of that. Just the same as when I was told I had leukaemia, they treated me not as a young boy who would, supposedly, not understand the impact of what was being told to him. But as a cancer patient – who not only deserved but demanded the right to be told everything that was going on with his body both clearly and constructively.

So this was the start of my journey. Not one that was particularly enjoyable I admit. But here is the ironic thing (and a little spoiler for you)

I am 33 now and the “Big C” didn’t win.

Which means the switch might have turned on. But with the love, help and expertise (of which this charity supports so well), I managed to turn it off.

For good.

This article was produced by with permission from author, [Darren]