Candid With Cancer #8 – My Second Cancer Diagnosis
Thomas Ashley details his battle against AML as part of a new weekly blog
Hey. I’m Thomas, and if there’s one thing life’s journey taught me as a cancer survivor, it’s that every moment is a precious gift. I’m telling my story in a heartfelt attempt to share my wisdom, inspire unyielding hope, and be a guiding light for those who might be facing their own battles. I look forward to you joining me on this journey and hope you enjoy!
Where to start really? No one can teach you how to circumnavigate cancer. You can read, read and read but at the end of the day, all you can do is experience it and learn. A unique experience unique to everyone, no two stories the same. I need to write this but more importantly I WANT to write this, not just for me; for everyone. No matter your circumstances, you don’t need to have experienced anything I have.
These ‘blogs’ or short stories won’t shy away from anything. It will be my experience in its rawest from, from the many highs to the many lows. I won’t be shying away from mental health because that’s the real battle you face. If anything, I want these blogs to tell the full story in depth and though I am a success story, it’s not all success.
If I can give one person permission, in whatever walk of life they are in, that the way they are feeling is allowed, if they can find solace in these words, if it can save one person’s life or just make an individual know they are not alone, then that is my mission accomplished. I want to empower those who deserve it. It’s not going to be an easy read but it’s going to be a must read.
So, this is going to be where I start – I fell ill in January 2015, just after Christmas. Over Christmas I was healthy, just recovering from a torn groin and looking forward to being able to play sports again. At first, the diagnosis for my illness was tonsillitis (something I regularly got). After being put on antibiotics for the week, my tonsillitis had subsided but an illness was still there. I just continued to feel sicky and tired. I tried to play football on the Sunday for my local team however, I had to come off after 30 seconds as I was going to be sick. As I was still ill, I took the week off school hoping that it was a reaction to the antibiotics, that it will settle soon and I will be back.
The following Monday I went back to school, feeling better or at least I thought I was. I tried to play hockey for games in the afternoon however throughout the session I was very tired but I put this down to not having played for 4 months and recovering from my previous illness. When I got home that afternoon, I walked home from the bus stop, 3 or 4 bags in hand. When I walked in through the front door, I pretty much collapsed onto the stairs. I didn’t think anything of it but my mum, with her mothering instincts, new something wasn’t right.
She called the doctors and the next day I am in for a blood test and that evening we get a call back saying that I can’t go out, go to school and need to stay at home and they will continue to monitor my bloods. At this point, I had no idea what was going on. I am a 15-year-old, in the peak of his school life, developing with his peers, learning about himself, going through puberty and wanting to enjoy life. I guess I just thought nothing of it.
A week passes and having had blood tests every other day, I didn’t know what was going on but I just assumed, I’ll be okay. I go in for a blood test on Monday 9th February and all is well, so I thought. My mum got a phone call about 7 in the evening saying that I need to go straight to Coventry Hospital. I remember, I was sitting in my room at the time, playing PS4 with my friends, telling them ‘I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll be back at school after half term’.
I had no idea what was going on but I put on a brave face and went. We went to A&E, waited there for a couple of hours, until I was taken through to a room to have my bloods taken. I can’t remember the nurse exactly, how she looked or the way she looked. But I do remember the way she spoke. She spoke to my mum first, outside the room and then came into me on my own. I didn’t know what was happening. But she knew she had to tell me. She got down on her knees when I was sitting down and gently and softy, had to tell me the worst-case scenario – I had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
This was the first time I knew anything about this. She went on to tell me it could be cancer – blood cancer to be more specific. I still had my brave face on and just said ‘okay’. She then reassured me that there are treatments that can save your life and that you can get through this. I remember being ‘stuck’, you could say. I put on a brave face and just said ‘cool – that’s okay’. She then went out the room and my mum came.
That was the first time I broke down. The first time I cried. And I think if I knew what was ahead, I would have been a lot worse. I remember telling my mum, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to have cancer. And my mum, being who she is, stayed strong and knew we would get through this. At this point, it still hadn’t kicked in that I had just been told that I could have cancer. And to this day I still don’t think it has. I don’t really know how a 15-year boy is supposed to react to being told they might have cancer. There is no right or wrong way. There never will be.