Posted on Monday 16 September 2019

Hiral’s story – “I want to raise awareness of cancer in the Asian community”

I was 21 when I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, in July 2018.

Image of Hiral, a young person with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

It was a massive shock. I’d never experienced anyone I knew going through something like this and had no idea what to expect. Being in an Asian family meant that the news spread like wildfire and a couple of days after I was diagnosed, my whole family had come to visit me in hospital. I was lying down in bed with everyone around me, and that’s when it really hit me.

English isn’t my parents’ first language so I had to do a lot of translating for them when I was first diagnosed. It was really difficult because not only did I have to translate for them, I had to process the information from the doctors myself beforehand – and I didn’t even understand half of it properly myself! I also felt a lot of guilt at the beginning, trying to figure out why this had happened to me. Am I a bad person? Is it my fault?

I come across as a confident, ‘strong’ person which meant that I was mostly left to deal with the emotional side myself because people assumed I was fine. I did try and stay positive and it definitely helped me get through a lot, but it was also really hard, and I wish I had spoken about this a bit more to help people understand. There were a lot of times where little things, like listening to my favourite song, or someone saying something trigged memories and made me feel really emotional.

Going through the ups and downs of treatment was really intense, but my dogs really helped me get through it. I’d FaceTime them every day when I was in hospital and when I went home, it was so reassuring to have them there to keep me company until someone came home. Time just goes quicker when they’re around!

Image of Hiral, a young person with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

I’ve always wanted raise awareness in the Asian community because I’d like to see more people talking openly about cancer and how it affects you. There are a lot of misconceptions about cancer that aren’t true that are still going round in the community. I’d had people say they can’t sit next to me because of it, and older people giving me recipes or cures they think would help. It can be really insensitive and frustrating to explain to people what cancer actually is. I often felt guilty about telling my parents how I felt and would think twice about sharing something. There’s more pressure on girls and it can be really intense.

Making it ok for people to feel comfortable to seek help and go to therapy and counselling would be a real achievement. For my family, it was like asking for help was showing weakness – that’s something I’d really like to change.

Cancer doesn’t define me. But this journey has shaped me as a young woman. Trying new things, like public speaking, writing poetry and taking part in photoshoots with CLIC Sargent has really empowered me. I’m ready to conquer anything now, whatever life throws at me.

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