While saving up to go to America on a BMX trip with his friends, Matt noticed he was unusually tired and had bruising on his foot, which he initially put down to old BMX injuries.
Matt said: “I was thinking maybe I did it on the bike - I was always slamming my foot or it could be from the ankle breaks too. I went to GP who said it must be from the bike but let’s do a blood test just in case.
“I went home and got a call that evening from the doctors whilst I was sat with mum looking up flights to go back to America and they told us to come back in. I still thought it wouldn’t be anything bad.”
Matt was told his results were ‘abnormal’ and they suspected he had leukaemia. Further tests confirmed it was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Felt like a kid again
“I remember being in hospital bed, mum and dad either side of me, thinking ‘that’s me, I’m dead at 19’. I felt like a little kid again, I was looking at my parents, looking at them for support and for them to tell me what to do. Before I got ill I was independent, doing my own thing. I didn’t know what to do; I just thought cancer was for old people.
“In the space of four days I went from thinking I had a broken ankle to be being told I had cancer - it all happened so quickly.”
Matt started treatment soon after in Bristol, where he received nine months of intensive chemotherapy treatment followed by two years of maintenance chemo.
“I didn’t know what chemo was, I just thought I would have operations to chop things out of me and take the cancer away but it was in my blood. I was hooked up to big bags of chemo and was blasted by it all.
A massive change
“Chemo just made me ridiculously poorly, I had no immune system and it was a massive change that took my favourite thing, BMX, away from me.”
During this difficult time, Matt’s family were able to stay at Sam’s House, one of CLIC Sargent’s 10 ‘Homes from Home’ around the UK. The Homes from Home are located near eight principal treatment centres, where families can stay for free during their child’s cancer treatment. This service helps families spend more time together and avoid often debilitating travel and accommodation costs.
“I had 136 hospital appointments in 3 months; it was way too cramped for my mum to stay on a camp bed, together all the time and not giving my mum space to cope with it too. Sam’s House meant she could go and meet other families and know she is not the only one, there are others going through it too.”
Matt and his family also received support from Suzie, a CLIC Sargent social worker, who provided practical, emotional and financial support.
“Suzie knows how to treat you and how to be around young people, she’s not patronising like some doctors and treated you for you and the person you are."
"She was there to big me up when I was feeling good and there to pick me up when I was feeling bad. There’s no way I could ever thank her and repay her enough.
“Without CLIC Sargent it would have been so much harder. We would have had to deal with everything ourselves and have all that extra stresses. I wouldn’t be where I am now without Suzie’s support.”
Matt is now back on his bike and has check-ups every three months.
“In BMX when you’re learning a new trick you have to try it again and again and you battle through it.
"BMX has always been an outlet for me and you strive to be better, cancer felt like just another obstacle."
"When I did get to back to BMX, I knew how to do it in my head it was just a matter of getting my muscles strong enough to do it again.”