Natalie – her story
On the 5th January 2001, when I was 12, I was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). I had been ill for months, with dramatic weight loss, jaundice, vomiting, tiredness, bruising and collapsing regularly. My Mum took me to the doctors every week.
The doctor said there was nothing wrong with me and that my Mum was being paranoid. He refused me a blood test. My Mum knew the symptoms as my Grandad died of cancer only a few years earlier, so I was taken to a different doctor and they ordered tests straight away. By the time I got to Alder Hey Hospital for the tests and back home there was a message on the answer machine saying I needed to get back to the hospital immediately…I had Leukaemia!!!
At the age of 12 I didn’t understand what it was. I didn’t even understand cancer except that it kills people. I had never been to hospital before and I was terrified. I was in for a month but soon settled in. The Nurses were fantastic and I had another 2 years of treatment so had to get used to it.
I didn’t have a easy ride. I had reactions to almost every medication. Steroids made me get muscle pains and made it hard to walk. I had brittle bones and fractured my leg just by going over on my ankle and fractured my wrist (don’t know how). I had 3 central lines and a portacath in the space of 6 months…
All got infected and one had a hole on the inside which leaked chemo scarring the tissue on the inside of my chest. I was allergic to the plasters over the central lines, and had a really bad reaction to a drug causing me to suffer septic shock. I was unable to get out of bed for 2 weeks.
I contracted MRSA and had to have surgery to remove an area of skin it had affected.
I suffered from septic shock 4 times in response to different medications, fitted quite a lot and when on chemo I couldn’t sleep flat as it would make me vomit. I was tired 24/7 and couldn’t do anything a normal 12 year old could.
But the worst of it all was Boxing Day 2002. I went into a hypoglycemic coma and the doctors gave up on me. My friends and family came to say bye to me and after the 5th day in a coma the doctors were going to turn the machine off. Then I woke up! Even to this day they don’t know why I was in the coma. I felt fine on Christmas Day. It’s just a thing my body did coz it needed a rest I guess!
After the coma I was bed bound for a month and had to learn to walk again which was horrible….But I am still here and I am very grateful to everyone who stood by me through it all and all the doctors and nurses at Alderhey who have saved my life.
Although this all sounds really bad, I knew no different. This was my life and I had to put up with it….I was well known in the hospital as “the guinea pig” as they were always testing new things out on me to see if it worked better. I didn’t mind, it meant I was getting better and helping other children.
I was also known as “the brave girl”, simply because I chose to never wear a wig! I never did understand that – how was I being brave for being natural. I didn’t care what people thought. I went to school bald and some children said things but I didn’t care and I had great friends who were always there for me. I had cancer and as a result was bald. As long as I got better, I didn’t care about having hair plus I have a full head now so what did it matter?
I met lots of fantastic friends when I was ill; unfortunately not all survived but believe me they fought every step. Hannah, one of my best friends, lost her battle in 2002 but will never be forgotten in my heart.
Whilst I was ill, I still wanted to go to school on my good days (which people thought I was mad for doing haha) but, I loved school. I managed to stay up to date and near the top of all my classes.
Even when ill, I had work sent to the hospital to stop boredom I guess haha. In 2002, I received The Diana Memorial Award from my old school for outstanding contribution to school work and bravery (I was the first person in my school to receive the award). I also completed a lot of volunteer work and charity work when I was feeling good. I fundraised for Alder Hey hospital and a lot of cancer charities.
I guess I just didn’t let the cancer win and I am still here, 7 years on from an all clear fighting strong. I am in University and still completing a lot of charity work.
he YCT may only seem like a short break to some people and something not essential when overcoming cancer, but this can’t be further from the truth. When suffering with such a serious illness, holidays are more of a luxury than you think. Cancer not only tries to take your life, but isolates you from doing anything normal. It lowers your self esteem dramatically, causing anger, sadness, stress and frustration for not just the patient but friends and family too. It also causes you to lose contact with people and you can feel like no one else understands. The YCT allowed me to realise there are beautiful people out there who notice us young suffers and want to help us live a normal life again, boost confidence, allow us all to make friends and do things people our age take for granted.
You can be yourself at Tracy Ann House and not have to worry about being judged or stared at for not having any hair, having unusual scars or a loss of limb or even taking lots of medication. Everyone understands and appreciates each other, so for the time you are there life seems normal again. Tracy Ann House really is a home away from home.
Thank you everyone at the Youth Cancer Trust, you really do make a huge difference in all our lives!
Natalie raised £2,000 for the Youth cancer Trust this year by taking part in a skydive! Huge thanks to Natalie from us all at YCT.