Posted on Friday 10 June 2022
Lauren’s story: Looking back at cancer journey 20 years on
Lauren was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2001 when she was aged just 14. Now 20 years on, Lauren is cancer-free, has three children, and has written a book based on her diary from her cancer journey. Here, Lauren shares her story.
At 14 I was like any other teenager – into every sport going, particularly dance and football, loved staying at friends awake until all hours gossiping, and laying in until midday!
In 2001 my whole life came crashing down, I was involved in the year nine sports day at school. While messing around with friends I noticed a lump in my lower abdomen. I thought nothing of it but the pain just didn’t go away. I remember I even used the excuse that I banged it on a table in class.
That Sunday while at my dad’s for the weekend, I was heading to work as a waitress. My dad noticed a golf ball sized lump in my skirt and questioned it. I said ‘oh it’s fine dad, I’ve banged it, it’s nothing.’
He refused to let me go to work and took me to hospital to have it checked out. They reassured me it was nothing to worry about but recommended I see my own doctor on the Monday.
Again, he said it was probably nothing to worry about, but referred me to the paediatrics to have it checked out. Off I went to the hospital where the doctor suggested it could be a gland, hernia or cyst. He said they would operate and I remember feeling actually excited, thinking a few days off school, my first scar. Little did I know.
Back at school before the end of term and I was buzzing, actually showing off my scar! I’d made plans straight away to stay at my friend’s house for the week when we broke up for half term.
While there, two days in my mum phoned and said we are coming to get you. With that, my mum and dad turned up. They have been separated since I was three, so it was very strange they came together. I got in the car and my mum told me the lump was cancerous, but not to worry or panic. She said it was all going to be fine and we could cure it.
My mind went numb. Cancer? Me? No way. I’m not ill I thought, not sick. Nah not me, I’m too fit and healthy.
In the meeting the doctor was chatting away for ages, I didn’t take a thing in. All I was concerned about was losing my hair, they said there was a 98 per cent chance it would go. I thought phew, that’s two per cent it won’t go, it can’t, no way.
I hated my hair, never did anything with it. It was long, I’d scrape it into a high ponytail and not take much care of it at all, but, suddenly, I looked in the mirror and I loved it. I couldn’t imagine my face with no hair, to me at that age, I thought it is what makes a girl and shapes your face.
I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma – large cell anaplastic, a very rare form. I had to be treated in Bristol Children’s Hospital every two weeks with a two week gap for six months.
The tests began. CAT scan, bone scan, MRI scan. I had an operation for my Hickman line to be fitted to which they made a mistake and cut my jugular vein and I had to have an emergency blood transfusion!
Every Monday I had to have a lumber puncture. My cancer was already in my stomach and chest area, so it was very important for me to receive a very intense treatment plan. My protocol came from Germany and was very aggressive and I went through every side effect going.
During treatment my body was fine as my immune system was high, however no sooner was I home, I was back in Exeter hospital receiving intravenous antibiotics for every infection going.
One time nearing the end of treatment I had everything together, an eye infection, face puffed up on steroids, pale as a ghost as no red blood cells, dark circles around the eyes. I couldn’t swallow due to severe mouth ulcers, couldn’t go to the toilet without gas and air as it was torture, and couldn’t even bear the sound of my dad’s newspaper being turned as it was piercing.
It was devastatingly traumatic. It was the only time I didn’t feel hope. I was not in control of my body and how it was shutting down.
But I never gave up. I had a beautiful family and the most amazing friends around me who are still my very best friends to this day.
The girl who was once so athletic, in every sport team going, couldn’t even walk up the stairs without being out of breath. I did not recognise myself. I was weak, helpless and had to accept I had to be patient. But I felt life was cruel.
I went through the most traumatic, gruelling experience ever. However, a year on I made it. I came out the other side, and it was over.
I was told I was unlikely ever to have children. Now I am blessed to have three beautiful boys who make me proud every single day.
During my cancer journey, I was supported by Young Lives vs Cancer (CLIC Sargent at the time), CLIC House was available for my mum to go and stay at times to recharge and get a break and well deserved respite while I stayed in Bristol. It was an escape and can imagine very well needed.
Young Lives vs Cancer also arranged for me, my brother and sister to visit planet Hollywood for a lunch with the stars. I remember meeting Shane Richie that day and he told us he was to be acting in EastEnders the next week, the cast from Bad Girls, and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen from Changing Rooms. I remember he was wearing a pink suit. It was a great day! Young Lives vs Cancer arranged for us to experience an hour trip up in a chopper too. It was brilliant. Mum was petrified but added to us kids absolutely loving it.
Going through such a horrendous time, the charity softened the blow by giving us as a family some amazing and once in a lifetime experiences that we will cherish forever.
Cancer took over me for a reason, it’s made me who I am. I live life for each day, appreciate the little things and I try to see the positive in each situation.
After being so isolated with no social media, nowhere to blog, no one to share my experiences with, I felt quite alone, I wrote a diary of everyday to pass the time.
20 years on and something I have wanted for so long has actually happened. Nicola Sibbick has written my story, and a teen novel based on my true life events.
I want to share my story with others to help other young people going through cancer and help raise awareness.
My book has now been published, you can read some extracts and more of my story at @Itsmelauren_book on Instagram. Or visit Amazon to buy the book.