Anneka was struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother when a series of unexplained health problems lead to a blood cancer diagnosis at the age of 21.

Now, four years on, she explains how the support of the Teenage and Young Adults (TYA) clinic at Guy’s Hospital in London, which was initially part-funded by Leukaemia UK, has helped her to face up to the future with confidence.

 

Initially, there was quite a lot of confusion with my diagnosis and at first no one even mentioned the word ‘cancer’. I was diagnosed with essential thrombocythaemia (ET), a myelo proliferative neoplasm (MPN), which is unusual for someone of my age. I had been seen by a number of doctors at different clinics. It was difficult to understand exactly what was happening.

 In a way, finally getting the “c” word out in the open was a blessing, because it put me in touch with the Teenage and Young Adults clinic at Guy’s. Gavin, the clinical nurse specialist, is amazing and I’m so thankful to have him and everyone else at the clinic.

 The team really cares. There is no time limit, most staff will listen for as long as you need them to. They realise that cancer isn’t just in your body, they understand that it follows you around in your work, the way you live, with boyfriends - it’s always there. They ask about it and want to know how they can help.

 Sometimes it’s nice to feel like a kid again. The Teenage and Young Adult clinic allows us to have fun and for that short amount of time it helps us not think about being sick, which is a real gift. We get together on social outings and get to do different things. It has put me in touch with some friends which I know I’ll have for life. My friend Tilly and I call each other blood sisters!

 Everyone assumes that if you have cancer you’ll have no hair and will be lying in a hospital bed or a hospice. So far, I haven’t had to have chemotherapy, so I have stayed looking the same, which some people find hard to deal with.

 Once, a really good friend said I didn’t have “real” cancer because I hadn’t lost my hair. After that, I couldn’t talk to her about my cancer for a long time. I felt that people thought I was exaggerating, especially at work where people weren’t very supportive when I had to take time off.

 My platelet count fluctuates quite a lot and my treatment has been on a ‘wait and see’ basis for three years. This means I’m constantly on an emotional rollercoaster - I’ll go in prepared to start a more grueling treatment because my platelet count was high at the last appointment only to find it has gone down again, so the treatment doesn’t happen. My cancer is chronic, so it’s something I’ve got to think of as a marathon not a sprint, which has its own challenges.

I was seeing a psychologist from the TYA team when I realised that a treatment was due to start on the anniversary of the day my mum died. I’m so glad I was at the clinic. I don’t think I’d have been able to turn up for that treatment if I hadn’t gone through it all with my psychologist.

 The support I’ve had from the team has been fantastic. I had to have the drug Interferon to treat my cancer. It is not technically a chemo, but the toll it took on my mind and body was so severe that it caused me to have a breakdown. Without the TYA clinic it would have been so much harder to recover from that.

 One of the activities I went on through the clinic was a Jamie Oliver cookery course, paid for by Leukaemia UK. We talked about healthy eating and then learnt some cooking skills - I found out how to chop herbs like a professional! I knew some of the people there, but also met new people, including John, who has become a good friend. It was great to do something different.

 My cancer has meant that I’ve had to give up my plan of joining the RAF, but in other ways it has made me more humble and more appreciative of life. I’ve made some amazing friends and I hope I’ve helped people see that the image of a cancer patient isn’t always what it seems.

I’ve just started a new dream job and, thanks to all the work I’ve done with my psychologist, I finally feel comfortable being on my own. My biggest ambition, though, is to be a mother - I feel like that’s what I was born to do. Hopefully, when the time is right, that will happen too.

Help Leukaemia UK to continue to support people like Anneka by donating here.