Overcoming challenges to being active | Youth Cancer Trust

By Leila Hamrang

From a young age I enjoyed keeping active whether through sport or normal day to day activities. At school I played a variety of sports like running, basketball, badminton and athletics. I loved exploring the outdoors with my friends running and walking for long hours.

When I was diagnosed with Leukaemia at the age of thirteen everything changed. I could no longer take part in active sport because of fatigue and I had a central line which made playing any contact sport impossible. I was encouraged to follow physiotherapy exercises to strengthen my muscles but I struggled with this because I was in denial about what was happening to me.

The treatment I received made my muscle weak and tense resulting in the use of a wheelchair. I remember going to physiotherapy as an outpatient, the physiotherapists made sure that every session was fun for me because they knew I was a teenager being treated for cancer trying to get through the treatment.

When I finished treatment getting back to normal was important so I started playing sports at school. I soon realised that I wasn’t like my normal peers, my muscles were weak and I couldn’t keep up with everyone else. I started to feel like I couldn’t find an activity that would suite my needs so I started to explore a variety of activities like climbing, badminton and basketball. I realised that I couldn’t keep up, even playing in small groups for fun was a lot. At the same time I was being diagnosed with more late effects from my treatment and they were having a massive effecting my body. I was diagnosed with a lot of conditions the one that affected my mobility was called Avascular Necrosis. The condition means the blood supply to the bone is cut off leading to bone death. My hips were mainly affected so I had to have surgery to avoid my hips collapsing. After surgery I had to come to terms with my mobility change, I no longer had the range of motion I had in my left hip and the pain had increased. I could no longer enjoy the activities that I was so trying so hard to keep up with.

When something is taken from you without your control you try your best to not give up even if it isn’t the best choice. I continued to try activities that were not suitable partly because I had beaten cancer and I wanted to live again and partly because I didn’t want to give up. I was diagnosed with more side effects including more AVN. My hips, knees, tibia, femurs, ankles and shoulder were all affected.

For a while I thought I couldn’t participate in any form of activity. I tried swimming but due to a weakened immunity I kept picking up infections. I was in pain all the time and I became more reliant on a wheelchair but didn’t want to accept this so I avoided socialising and going out. My previous experience of using a wheelchair during my cancer treatment also made me more reluctant to use one because I felt like if I gave in I was giving up.

I realised that if I used a wheelchair I would more likely go out and spend longer outdoors. Self propelling my wheelchair was improving my cardio fitness as well as increasing my muscle strength. I was frustrated looking for an activity that I could enjoy but I also missed being part of a community.

In 2022, a friend introduced me to wheelchair rugby. At first I wasn’t keen because I’d never played rugby and I was scared like my other ventures that I wouldn’t manage. Since joining I have completed my first season. There have been many challenges along the way but I have got through them and will continue as much as I can to be part of this wonderful sport. I’m glad that I took that chance and tried something new and different. I fell in love with wheelchair rugby because I found something that I could enjoy being part of again and best of all be part of a community. It doesn’t matter how active you are whether it’s a few more steps or standing for longer or doing gentle stretches the important thing is that the activity suits you and it means something to you.