When Bethan began treatment for blood cancer last year, she never expected that it would take so much from her, or that she would be recovering in lockdown. Yet, she has focussed on the positives and as her strength grew, she decided to take on a challenge for Anthony Nolan to help others going through similar experiences. Here, she shares her story.
I remember the moment the respiratory consultant gave me ‘that look’ and then handed me the shit sandwich that is cancer. To be honest, it was somewhat of a relief. At 26, I had shrunk to an exhausted size 4, who had been going back and forth to the doctors for five years trying to get answers. By the time I was diagnosed, I was on my knees.
I went home in a daze, where I existed in my own little bubble for a few days, awaiting further tests that would later confirm it was stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
‘Exhausted and overwhelmed’
The next few months were gruelling. I spent a month strapped to a heart monitor because of the fluid around my heart. My team eventually decided to treat me with chemo, in the hope that if my lymphatic system was working the fluid would drain on its own. This worked a treat but it meant I could not finish my fertility treatment to preserve my eggs, before having chemo. It wasn’t until this choice was taken from me that I realised the magnitude to it. The grief I felt, and still do, is immense. It is something I am learning to cope with.
I was given six rounds of chemo, mostly as an inpatient because of various complications. I missed family events, Christmas, new year and my birthday. I lived with my head in a sick bowl, with a sore mouth and just feeling generally exhausted and overwhelmed. I was well enough to have my last round of chemo as an outpatient and what a difference that made! I was able to spend time with my dogs, my friends and family, able to have a walk around the shops and just be me for a little while.
I lost my hair twice during chemo. It wasn’t any easier the second time around. When my best friend was visiting me in hospital, she would wash and brush my hair while hiding clumps in her bra so I wouldn’t see. I struggled to look in mirrors and hid my head from the world and myself. I made the decision to have my head shaved which somehow made it easier. I felt a little bit more in control of the situation – I was taking charge and I decided when I lost my hair, not cancer.
I felt like cancer had taken so much from me
When I was told that I was in remission, it wasn’t how I imagined it all. It was at the start of Covid-19, meaning I wasn’t allowed visitors, so I received this news sitting on my own in a blue tinted room by someone wearing full PPE. It felt so impersonal.
I thought I would have my family and friends with me, then be going out for a nice meal and popping a few corks. Instead I was alone, trying to process this news, frustrated that I didn’t feel happy about it. I felt like cancer had taken so much from me.
Recovering during lockdown
Being in lockdown meant that my world has become very small and my support network has shrunk somewhat. Lockdown has, however, given me time.
Time for my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes to start growing back. Time to start to process everything that has happened to me, with the support of my Macmillan councillor. Time to build my strength and stamina. Time to decide that I want to use my negative experiences to help others and be motivated by the kindness and consideration I was shown by people I met during my treatment. To help raise awareness of young cancer, blood cancers and Lymphoma.
That is why I decided to take part in the Anthony Nolan 30 Mile Challenge – to support them in the amazing work they do in helping so many people.
Photo: Bethan on one of her Zero to Hero walks, to raise money for Anthony Nolan
Fundraising for Anthony Nolan has given me a feeling of purpose again
So far, my recovery hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, but the fact that I have been able to work with amazing charities like Anthony Nolan, to help raise much needed funds and raise awareness, has given me a feeling of purpose again.
It has made me want to work harder and strive to make things better for the next person, to show people that although hard, recovery is possible, you can regain your independence, your dignity, slowly but surely you can get your life back.
If Bethan’s story has inspired you to take on your own fundraising challenge, head to our fundraising pages to find out how you can become a Hero at Home.
If you or someone you know is going through a stem cell transplant, you can get support and information from our wonderful Patient Services team.