When she was just 16 years old, Sarah McCarroll from Lisburn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. From the day she was diagnosed, Sarah and her family have been supported by Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Clinical Nurse Specialist for Teenagers and Young Adults, Renee Reid who was able to provide age appropriate care and support to young people with cancer.
This is Sarah’s story.
“I was a pretty normal teenager before I was diagnosed. I just finished my mocks of my 5th year exams, getting ready to do my GCSEs in May and June. I was involved in everything. I was involved in choir, orchestra, sports and just loved hanging out with friends and stuff and then everything just changed.
“It was a pretty slow process finding out I had Hodgkin’s. I presented with my doctor on several occasions with this awful cough that just wouldn’t go away. I was missing a lot of school because of it. But also because I had just finished my exams I was very fatigued, but that fatigue just wasn’t going away and that just wasn’t me. And then on the 23rd March 2016 I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“To any teenage girl, getting a cancer diagnosis is a massive shock and it was definitely to us because although I was tired, I still felt just like myself. I just got on with it. The first words out of my mouth were, right, what do you want me to do and where do you want me to be. We tried to keep as many things as normal as we could. I still went to school, but I knew I would be taking time out of it, but family life was pretty much the same. We just tried to be normal, do normal things.
Watch Sarah’s story below
“My treatment plan I knew would be pretty extensive. I started off thinking I would have six months of chemotherapy and that would be me, but after about three rounds of that I moved on to harsher chemotherapy and that wasn’t really doing much. My neck was just getting bigger rather than smaller. So I moved to an experimental biotherapy which actually grew it very more to the point that I was told in October that I wouldn’t have that long.
“But I had an amazing consultant down in Dublin who took on my case with Belfast inputting as well, and I started an immunotherapy called Nivolumab and this was a dramatic change for me. I went back to being normal and I had very few side effects of this and this actually cleared me enough that I was put on the list for a stem cell transplant and that was granted. I started on 21st June and transplanted on the 28th June.
“My teenage nurse, Renée was just amazing. She supported me right from day one, put me at ease straight away. She interacted with me, with my consultant, asked me did I want to ask him questions, or was there something she could help me with.
So after a pretty rough couple of years, on the 24th September 2017 I got the all clear.
And life kind of just got back to normal. I started school that same week and just got thrown back into everyday life, everyday school life. I completed my GCSE exams and I also passed my driving test about a year after that and have just been enjoying the freedom of being a normal teenage girl again.
A big thank you to everyone who supports Friends of the Cancer Centre. It has really made my journey a lot easier and you may never experience a cancer diagnosis in your family yourself, but just putting that little extra change in a donation bucket can make a dramatic difference. Thank you