Anna – Talks at Rotary Conference in Torquay
The Rotary Club in Torquay was attended by 1000 people and the conference theme was ‘Youth’. The Youth Cancer Trust Events & Fundraising Coordinator, Derek Smith was invited to speak about the work of the Youth Cancer Trust.
Derek was joined by Anna Corbett and Sarah Sade Olaiya, both of whom have had cancer and have experienced a holiday with the Youth Cancer Trust.
The speeches were met with an overwhelming response from the audience. The charity would like to thank Anna and Sarah for taking the time out to talk on behalf of the charity.
The last time I spoke at a Rotary conference was 8 years ago after winning the Youth Speaks Competition. Little did I think then that I would address you again about my experiences of having cancer at just 21 years old.
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in May this year. I have had surgery to remove a lump in my neck and one treatment of radiotherapy. I am now waiting to hear if I will need more.
I finished my undergraduate degree last May and went on to study for a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University. When I discovered a lump in my neck in January, the LAST thing I imagined was cancer.
I like many other young cancer patients had huge difficulty in getting a diagnosis. Unfortunately many doctors believe young people presenting them with any sort of medical problem have ‘growing pains’ or in my case – a lump in the neck was passed off as an infection. Delayed diagnosis is a massive problem for young cancer patients, and unfortunately this subsequently means more, or prolonged treatment by the time the cancer is caught and diagnosed.
For me, this meant my parents paying for a private diagnosis after 4 months of outpatients appointments and false promises of scans and biopsies. It also meant much more invasive surgery, as the cancer had spread into my lymphatic system.
But the question I really struggled to answer when I had my diagnosis was ‘Why me? I’m so young’ I didn’t know anyone even close to my age who had had cancer and I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. But once I got over THAT word – that big C word, my attitude was to get on, and get rid of this.
During my first Oncology appointment at the BRI in Bristol, I was pointed in the direction of the patient’s library and told to help myself to any relevant literature. So I found some leaflets on thyroid cancer, but then noticed a ‘Young Persons’ section. And it was there I found a leaflet for the Youth Cancer Trust and it was a breath of fresh air. It didn’t try to make me understand my illness, but invited me to go on a holiday. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet other young people like me who had cancer.
I have to admit when I first sent the reply slip off, I didn’t really expect to hear back and I certainly forgot about it with everything else going on. But then I received an application from Brenda and Jim to apply for a free activity holiday. For me this was brilliant, after 4 years of student debt and not working since my diagnosis, I couldn’t have afforded to go abroad on holiday with my friends, and I hadn’t been away from the fantastic support of my parents and family since surgery.
And so it was going to happen – I was going to stay a week at Tracy-Ann House. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest and was a little bit apprehensive about meeting the others. But as you are allowed to take a friend with you too – I had my best friend with me for support.
When we arrived – I couldn’t believe how close the house was to the beach, and as soon as you stepped inside it felt like home from home. We were soon sat in the kitchen having a cup of tea with Brenda. When I met the others, I realised that they had all had cancer much younger than me, and for some it was their second and third visit to Tracy-Ann house. I think this is one of the fantastic things about YCT – you can keep going back for up to 5 years after your diagnosis and keep meeting people who’ve had similar experiences.
I wasn’t sure how much the group would talk about ‘the big C word’ but I found myself sat talking to Sarah one night for hours. It was so good to hear her talk about it as a past experience – whereas for me, it was very much still happening. It made me think I will beat this – just like she has. I think this was the most important thing I took away from Tracy-Ann House.
For the first time in months I found myself getting involved in all the great activities – like horse-riding and go-karting and I didn’t think about my energy levels and getting tired. For me, the week was a perfect mix of having great fun, relaxing and most importantly realising I wasn’t the only young person to have cancer.
The work that Jim, Brenda and everyone at YCT put into making such wonderful holidays, benefit not only the young cancer patients, but also their families who need a break from providing constant support. But if the charity could raise the money needed for the new house – they’d be able to offer support to more young cancer patients by increasing the group size to 14 people and wouldn’t need to split the group into 2 different houses.
During a stay at Tracy-Ann House you are in a home away from home with a family away from your own family. You get the opportunity to meet others who know about your fears and apprehensions, and can make you understand a little more about your illness, and help to develop the positive attitude which is so important to a successful recovery.