Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My story.

"The good news is you're 17 and you have leukemia, but the bad news is... you're 17 and you have leukemia."

I'd sorta known it was coming. It had been months since I'd felt right. I'd come home from school and sleep 'til eight. I was off my food. I'd been getting weaker and weaker, losing my strength and speed week by week despite training almost 2 hours a day. I'd put it down to exams and stress. But damn... it was far from that.

Now what? All my - and my parents' - last hopes had extinguished with the final test; a bone marrow biopsy. It hurts just as bad as it sounds... they stick a needle through your hip and suck out what's inside. In my case, as a healthy, strong, near-adult, it took 3 doctors and lots of sweat just to pierce the bone.

We hoped it was anything else but that 'til that. 
My critically low blood counts? Maybe I had some vitamin deficiencies? My hour long nosebleeds? It must've been the dry air being expelled from the heaters. Sleeping 16 hours a day? Maybe I was just a slob, or tired from all that studying. 

In the end though... that was all denial.

Questions raced  through my mind...

What had I done to deserve this?
 What had caused it?

 WHY ME?? 

I hadn't done anything bad to anyone as far as I'd known... I was fit, hard working and I ate healthy. 


 Wasn't cancer for old people? Or those who smoked of something??

Then I asked that final, scary question. 

"What are my chances..."

This man I'd met just yesterday glanced at his peers and looked me dead in the eyes. 

"About 10-20% that you'd survive the next five years."

I cried. For ages. No matter how much my parents, nurses and close friends would try and console me - I wouldn't listen. How could I? I was 17 and probably wouldn't live to see 21. 

What would you do?

 I did those things that people don't know you'd have to do before chemotherapy. A heart scan, lung function test and lots of blood tests, to get a baseline - chemotherapy apparently affects all those things. A sperm donation. Apparently it can affect that too. 

Amidst all this was the constant messages from everyone - from my parents, relatives and close friends to nurses - people who'd only known me for an eight hour shift, max. All told me that it'd all be fine. That I'd be strong and I'd get through it. One nurse even had the nerve to say that the next few weeks for me would be filled with pain, vomiting, diarrhea and all kinds of awfulness. How dare she, when I was at my lowest?? How could she be so cruel?! 

I kept questioning their words...
How could they know what I was going through? How could they take away the fact that I only had a tiny chance of surviving?

But in the end, I had a choice, even if I didn't know it at the time. 
I could stay depressed and down about it all, or I could change.

That's when I first learnt - there's always a second way to look at things. 

Maybe the bad news was that I was seventeen and had leukemia. 
But the good news was, I was SEVENTEEN and had leukemia.

Those excuses, those moments of denial that I'd had. Maybe I could see them in another way.

I was young... yeah...
But that only meant I wouldn't have to worry about raising a family, or have to care for myself on my own in the hard moments to come. I had great, funny parents, who'd be willing and able to help me in any way. I had great friends who'd support me the whole way through.  I was fit, I ate healthy, and I could eat a LOT - so I wouldn't waste away as some people do during chemo.  All that enabled me to get the best possible treatment. 

That 10 - 20% was beginning to look much bigger in my eyes.

I started reading a book given to me by my other. It was about a doctor who'd happened to get bowel cancer. He witnessed the grief the other patients endured during their treatment, but in particular, he was struck by how they acted like it was a death sentence. He asked himself one simple question... 

Why did they feel down about something they couldn't control? Why were they acting as if they were definitely going to die? Why did they see the treatment as  a stall, or something which may prolong life, rather than a cure? 

Why was he thinking like them?

By asking why, over and over again, he saw another way of looking at things.... And that made all his doubts, all the obstacles in his path seem like nothing.

Now  I could see that I was young, fit and hence more likely to survive. I was beginning to view the upcoming chemotherapies and bone marrow transplants as what it really was - A CHANCE OF A CURE, rather than just something that brought me pain and suffering. And from that nurse who'd told me of the horrible things I would encounter, I knew it would be hard. But WHY should I succumb to fear and believe that the treatment being hard and uncomfortable would undermine my survival? Acknowledging the pain that was to come in my journey only meant that I wouldn't give up, even when I was at my lowest. 

With that attitude, I KNEW I was going to get better.

And I'm still here. Two years, 6 rounds of chemotherapies, a near fatal dose of radiation and two bone marrow transplants later.

You may be thinking, that's awesome man. Good on you.

But I could never do that. 

You may be thinking... that's pretty cool... but how does that affect me? 

I want you to ask yourself 1 question.


Why wait for cancer, like I did, to live a happier, healthier life?

Those little steps I did, I still apply, whenever I can to life. And it's why I'm always happy and always looking at the better, more constructive way of looking at things.

So, what had cancer taught me?

And how could this help you?

Obviously, my whole battle has changed my view of the world and how to handle adversity. And you may be thinking that you simply couldn't do those things if you were in my situation, or that you're not strong enough to apply it into your life.

But the major ideas, the things I did to get over cancer are simple ones - THINGS YOU ALREADY DO - which can help you almost accomplish anything you want in life. 
You can't get everything you want, you can't cheat death. But they will help your chances along a damn sight. And remember - you will ALWAYS have a choice on how you view your life. 
Sometimes it's just hard to see that. 

And there's no reason you should wait to make a change that could change your life for the better.

A talk I did about my story... that outlines how this can help you guys too!

So Remember:

- There is ALWAYS a second way to look at things.
- If you're doubting yourself or afraid to do something or afraid of what people are thinking of you... ask yourself WHY over and over again, until you see a second way of looking at things. Something you can control. Something that may help you get your goals in life or the fact that you always have the choice on how something affects you.
Too often we don't do what we really want to because of the fear of rejection or what others would think. Why do we have to do that? Why should we stop ourselves from enjoying who we are for others when we can disregard them and be happy with ourselves and our choices?
- Acknowledge that the journey to anything will be hard, and plan ahead to overcome these. But instead of being scared of them, understand that just being able to foresee these challenges makes you more likely to get past them. Because you'll have time to figure them out, you won't be surprised and you won't think you'll fail in the face of adversity, but be MORE LIKELY TO GET PAST THEM.

So, here's a few steps to help you accomplish your goals, or get out of a hard place with these ideas. It doesn't have to relate to sickness like me (though it can) and if you ever need help getting there, post a comment down below or message me on my Facebook Page (I get messages from patients and regular people all the time asking for help or advice - and I'm glad to help).

Step 1 --> Assure yourself you can do it.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has something about them that can help them do anything. For me in my battle, it was that I was young. For others going through the same thing, it could be their faith, it could be their family, it could be the brilliant, top class care they're receiving. IT COULD BE ANYTHING AND EVERYONE HAS IT. For someone who may want to make it to the top of a sport, it could be their speed, strength or, alternatively, their mind and ability to analyse and act on situations quickly and efficiently. If you want to make a top school or course in college or uni, or get a new job or promotion, it could be your ability to think quickly, your dedication or YOU COULD WORK ON YOURSELF TO HAVE THESE THINGS, bit by bit.

Remember, there's always a second way to look at things. So if you can't see something straight away, you will ALWAYS have, or can ALWAYS develop the characteristics, qualities or skills necessary to be the best you can be. And no matter how hard times may seem, you can always bust out of them. 

STEP 2 --> Acknowledge the challenges in your way. But plan ahead and know that, because you know they're there, you're going to blow by them.

So you're full of energy, you're pumped up, you know you can do it. But don't make that mistake of getting overconfident and wasting your opportunities because of that, and don't allow your resolve to waver when you find yourself facing an obstacle. 

Life will be hard at times. But only if you make it so. 

I knew that the treatment was going to be tough. Excruciating. Exhausting. But I remembered that in the end, all of this would be left behind in the past and, also, that modern medicine would be able to ease all suffering. I knew that I'd have to limit visitors as my immunity decreased during chemos. But I had facebook, phones and technology to still be able to connect to people. I knew it would be boring. Technology could fix that too. 

For others peoples' goals, challenges may present themselves as distractions - things like too much gaming or social media or even partying too much. I should know, I spent almost a month wasting time before beginning to write this. But after a while of wasting time, ask yourself why? Why am I having fun scrolling down facebook aimlessly when my real interest is the beauty I can make from taking and editing photos of nature? Why shouldn't I enjoy studying maths when I can feel that satisfaction from finding out why I was going wrong and next time getting those questions right? 

If you're trying to lose weight or be healthier, you can look at it from another perspective. Instead of enjoying downing a box of Krispy Kremes, think instead about the pain you'd get the next day from the stomach ache. If you don't like running aimlessly, why do it? Try playing a sport you like, like basketball for me, or do other things - like playing laser tag or paintball or even just walking with a friend or a pet for a half hour per day.

The biggest challenge you'll have to acknowlege is your own laziness, or lack of motivation. You know that on some days you may be lazy, but remember your goal and all those things you have on your side to help you achieve it. When you don't feel like doing anything, ask yourself why? Soon enough you'll be back on target.

Step 3 - Research and Plan

Before you even begin to lift a weight or do a question or write a word in a book, you should have an idea of what your actions will do for your goal and why. Going in blindly or overconfidently into anything will reduce your chances of success. But if you do your reading, and know where you're going, you'll get there a lot quicker. 

For me, in my battle against cancer, it was easy. I had doctors who were doing that for me, and they could answer any other questions I had on my treatment and things like hygiene and what to eat. 

But in truth, it's just as easy for anyone.

Don't be afraid to ask someone about something. If you don't understand how a teacher did a problem, why should you feel stupid for asking her to explain it to you again? The second, and better way to look at it, is to ask yourself how much more stupid you would feel when you got the test back and failed because you couldn't solve a similar problem? If you don't know the best exercise regime for you, ask a personal trainer. They're big, but they don't bite.

And if they don't know the answer, you're blessed to live in today's society - where information or advice can be harnessed from the tap of a few keys and the clicks of you mouse. 

Step 4 --> Do

For me, I just had to sit back, eat as much as possible and maintain slightly higher levels of hygiene. I already knew I was going to make it - as will you - and I got to relax all day most of the time. 

For your goals, it may be a bit harder, but at the same time, just as simple. 

When you're preparing for that final game of basketball, and all your research on the other team's players and strategies are done, all you've got to do is get your body and your team ready to execute moves, shots and plays. So you shoot your shots. You lift those weights. You run those sprints. You dribble through cones and cones. If you're in the gym, worried about looking weak compared to the older kids or bodybuilders, or slow against the sprinters on the track, don't change your technique to lift more, or worse yet, give up altogether. Why feel that everyone thinks you're weak, or horrible at what you're doing when, if you look at it another way, you'll end up in front of them in time by doing it the right way, consistently? You'd only look stupid if you hurt yourself by doing it unsafely. Why harm yourself to look good for others?

And when it finally comes time to that last game, you'll know that you've done your practice, you've got your teammates, your skills. You'll acknowledge it won't be easy and that the other team may be good. But you'll remember you've got everything on your side. And that you won't doubt yourself on the court because of that. And that you've given yourself the best chance of winning.

Life is all about giving yourself the best chance to be happy. And I hope what I've written will help you do that. 

A talk I gave on this topic...

I really encourage you guys to share this one amongst your friends/family in particular --> especially with those who are in really tough circumstances. Hopefully it'll help them find a way past their sadness and get back to being their best. <-- If you or a loved one needs help, message me here. Same deal if you enjoy my blogs, or if you're interested in medicinish related stuff (don't worry, I don't get too technical and I always keep my blogs user friendly).


  1. I didn't know you where that good a writer.....well done and keep going.

  2. Thanks dad - will definitely be doing so and am glad that it's helping people - so everyone get sharing with other people going through hard times.
    This has helped so many people already and I'm glad that I can do that from my experience.

  3. Good for you! I've been through it and it's terribly hard - but you can do it. That's clear to me.

    1. Thanks a lot Ellen =] Do share it with anyone else who you think could benefit - always good to hear people who've also been through it too!
      We are the survivors club haha

  4. Great blog...wishing you all the best

    I have a blog as well I was diagnosed with aml in 2009..had stem-cell transplant (non-related) donor...I've shared my story and current feelings about my life after

    I look forward to reading more of your blog!!!

    Thanks for sharing
    Dee Graham

    1. I will definitely have a read of that! Thanks for sharing it - we've probably had many similar experiences so very interested =]

  5. Enjoyed reading every sentence of your blog. Keep posting.

  6. you are truly an inspiration to myself and others! Keep it up ! :)
    Trust in God and he can heal you :)

  7. Hi I just found your blog through a link on Stupid Cancer on fb. I don't have cancer (thankfully) but my son (just turning 8) was dx in 20012. Well his in remission (yay!) and and just finished maintenance treatment for APML leukaemia. I think you write really well!-I wish you all the best for your future. I think it's great your studying medecine..great perspective for having been on both sides of the fence. lol that sounds wrong but you know what I mean :)

  8. Well put. Good on you mate. This blog will help others

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