Relapse and me – Sara’s story

Sara was 17 when she got the news that her cancer had returned. She blogs about her experience of going through relapse.

Sara, a young person who has spoken about her experience of cancer and relapse

Sara features in CLIC Sargent's 2019 World Cancer Day campaign

I was 12 when I had a brain tumour removed. After my treatment, which included proton beam radiotherapy, my scans were clear until four years later – when I received the shocking news that a new lesion had been found. I made the difficult decision to have more surgery which confirmed it was a relapse of the cancer. I then had six weeks of radiotherapy at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.

 

I took the news of my relapse very hard. I had a lot of unanswerable questions going around in my head. Is the new tumour the same cancer? Are treatment and all the side effects going to be worth it? Why would treatment work this time if it didn’t work last time? These weighed on my mind and I became very quiet, not really chatting to anyone at home. I started keeping to myself a bit more and wanting to go to bed early just to get away from my thoughts. In general, I was very confused, as well as terrified.

 

I think one of the best things I did was return to my normal life in between my first scan and my surgery. I found that going back to school gave me something to focus on other than the bad news and provided a much needed distraction. This did not mean I miraculously was no longer upset about the news, but meant that for the majority of the day I was distracted from thinking about my illness.

I found that going back to school gave me something to focus on other than the bad news and provided a much needed distraction.

I also knew that I was going to be thrown back into the world of constant hospital appointments so I found it useful to plan things during the time between deciding on surgery and the surgery date, such as my university application – as I knew I’d be unable to do this while juggling treatment and school. This gave me a goal and something to focus on, but initially it was very difficult to sit down and write the personal statement as I was having to think about the future, while not really knowing how my life would turn out in the next few weeks.

 

Relapse is psychologically so draining, because not only is it something most people already fear, but you already have knowledge of the treatments and side effects so you know what to expect more, making the entire prospect even more daunting. I found talking to the clinical psychologist and my CLIC Sargent social worker, Rachel, very useful in getting my stresses and worries out and they also helped come up with potential solutions to any problems I was experiencing.

I found talking to the clinical psychologist and my CLIC Sargent social worker, Rachel, very useful in getting my stresses and worries out and they also helped come up with potential solutions to any problems I was experiencing.

My treatment ended in January 2018 when I rang the celebratory bell at Clatterbridge. I struggled with headaches and fatigue while studying for my A levels, but managed to get the grades I needed to get into medical school. In September 2018, I moved to London to study medicine at King’s College London, where I intend to pursue my passion for the treatment of childhood cancers. I still have fatigue which I manage as best I can by resting and pacing myself, but it can be a challenge when trying to live a normal university life. However, it is refreshing to no longer be known in school as the ‘kid who had a brain tumour’!

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