When Adam was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma he put his faith in his medical team and tackled his condition one chemo session at a time.

But mentally he was squaring up for a second challenge – how to cope with losing his hair.

Adam, 31, said: “I was obsessed with losing my hair. I really didn’t want to be ugly and bald because that would mean I definitely had cancer. I had this mindset that as long as I could maintain looking OK I was never quite going to be one of those people with cancer.

“I do know rationally that is ridiculous, but in my mind that wasn’t how it worked.”

Adam, a teacher, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last year, after feeling increasingly unwell, losing his voice and developing a lump on his neck.

He said: “I was finally referred to a really good doctor who said straight away that I had Hodgkin lymphoma. He was very relaxed about it and said it would be fine and they could fix me. I was like, 'oh my God, am I going to die?’ and he just said, no, we can fix you.

“He was so relaxed that I felt it couldn’t be that bad. It was better than the alternative, which was that they couldn’t fix it.”

In a weird way, having cancer was easy because all I ever did was think about the next day and the next day. Whereas now, I look well and I feel well but I have to think, ‘what do I want my future to be like?’

Within two weeks of diagnosis, Adam had begun chemotherapy. He said: “My mindset was now I’ve got one chemo done, so that means I’ve got less cancer. That was my survival tactic.”

Meanwhile, he was having to continue teaching part-time during his chemotherapy for financial reasons.

Adam said: “I live in London and me and my friend own our flat. My mortgage is extortionate so for me to lose even one month’s pay would probably bankrupt me. I thought if I could keep going until the summer holidays then I could manage financially.”

After eight chemo sessions, Adam was scanned and told that 99 per cent of his cancer had gone. However, his consultant dropped a bombshell that not only would he need more chemotherapy, but that it would have to be done far more intensively. His projected 12 chemo sessions turned into 28.

At this point, Adam was offered counselling with haemato-oncology psychotherapist Surabhi Chaturvedi at King’s College Hospital in London, a position initially funded by Leukaemia UK which was the first of its kind in any hospital in the UK.

He said: “I’m always jolly and I make jokes about having cancer and I always look like I’m fine, but with Surabhi I wouldn’t have to pretend to be fine. With her I’d be super-stressy, but with everyone else I’m like, ‘oh it’s fine, I’ve got cancer, no big deal’. It was probably good to have an outlet.

“Although friends and family are good, they don’t know what to say and it’s really hard to relate to something you’ve never had.”

After six months of treatment, Adam finally lost his hair. He said: “When it happened, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t like it, but I started wearing a hat and thought, ‘actually I don’t look bad in a hat’. The worst was losing my beard and eyebrows, which I hadn’t mentally prepared for.

“I had no option but to get on with it.  I was desperate to be normal again. That was my goal.”

Dealing with concern and interest from friends and family was also something that Adam had to adjust to. He said: “I didn’t want peoples’ opinions. All I wanted was their acknowledgement that I was ill. It is a hard balance for people to master.

“My friend texted me every morning and night and would ask ’how are you today?’ I loved that. People talk about the side effects of cancer, but one of the worst side effects is that it is really boring. There’s a lot of time sitting, so actually I wanted some attention.”

By the time Adam’s chemotherapy ended, he was weak and ill, barely able to walk more than a few steps from his kitchen to living room. He needed a blood transfusion at the end of his treatment, and then, quite quickly, his health improved.

He was able to return to work full time, less than a year after his diagnosis.

Adam said: “In a weird way, having cancer was easy because all I ever did was think about the next day and the next day. Whereas now, I know I look well and I know I feel well but I have to think, ‘what do I want my future to be like?’

“The decision feels bigger because part of me thinks I should do something great because I’ve been given this new lease of life or sometimes I think I should just chill out because I’ve had cancer, so why am I stressing because, really, nothing is a problem.

“I feel that cancer has taken away a year of my life and I am determined that it should not have any more. However, dealing psychologically with the effects of cancer is still difficult at times, but I feel that I am a heading in the right direction and looking forward to the future.”

 

Leukaemia UK has funded the first service of its kind to offer dedicated counsellor and clinical psychologist support for haematological patients at King's College Hospital in London. Through the Leukaemia UK Mind & Body Team, people affected by blood cancer will routinely receive psychological support where needed. It is hoped that by making emotional support an integral part of everyone’s treatment, psychological problems may be identified early or even avoided altogether. Leukaemia UK hopes to fund more services like these across the UK.

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