A TEEN who put her exhaustion down to “freshers flu” was given a diagnosis that felt like “a death sentence”,
Tegan Clarke, now 22, assumed she had the typical battery of illnesses that come with the first week of partying at university, in September 2018.
She had just started an accounting and finance degree at London Metropolitan University and was filled with excitement.
Tegan said: “I had just started university when I began to feel ill.
“I was tired all the time, so I put it down to exhaustion from moving to uni and leaving home. I wasn’t eating proper home cooked meals and I just assumed I was a bit under the weather.”
In the beginning, Tegan believes the doctor also thought she was adjusting to life away from home.
She said: “At first, like me, they just thought it was ‘freshers’ flu’, which is a term given to these kind of symptoms in new students, but with further tests, they showed I had acid reflux or heartburn.
“I kept going back to the doctor when things didn’t improve and in November 2018 he commented on how fast my heart rate was.
“He said he couldn’t really send me home and advised me to go to A&E.”
As Tegan waited for the results of heart tests to come back, at worst, she thought she had pneumonia.
But Tegan, who is from Leeds, West Yorkshire, was all alone when doctors said she in fact had a form of blood cancer.
She said: “It was a completely devastating diagnosis. I burst into tears.
“Before giving me the results, the doctors had said I could have pneumonia and I had been in floods of tears just about that.
“I remember thinking, ‘This the worst thing that could ever have happened to me’.
“So, when I found out it was cancer, I thought it was a death sentence.
“I have had a lot of family members die from cancer, so I was really scared.”
Tegan immediately phoned her sisters in tears who arranged for her family to travel down to London.
Following a biopsy that same day Tegan was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The cancer develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands found throughout the body.
More than 14,000 people in the UK are given a diagnosis every year, and there are almost 5,000 deaths.
After her diagnosis, doctors allowed for Tegan to be transferred by ambulance to St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, so she could be closer to home.
“Once there I went onto a Teenage Cancer Trust ward, where the other patients there were all 18 to 24 years old,” Tegan said.
“It was really nice to be surrounded by other young people who were going through a similar experience.
“The trust really supported me while I was there. I was in hospital for a week and I made a lot of friends with the other patients.”
Within a week of her diagnosis, Tegan started “gruelling” chemotherapy treatment, having six rounds, three weeks apart.
She then had radiotherapy for three weeks, and waited anxiously to find out if the treatment had worked.
Tegan said: “I’d had to drop out of university and I was driving myself mad sitting at home.
“I didn’t want to waste the two months I had before my results, especially if it was bad news.”
Tegan spent the summer of 2019 completing her bucket list, including a trip to Disneyland Paris and Amsterdam with her cousins and Corfu for a week with her family.
She said: “[I] made sure that I attended every party and event I was invited to. It was really important to me to live my life again. Time was of the essence.”
On September 26, 2019, Tegan went to St James’s University Hospital to receive her results.
She said: “I teared up when I got the all-clear, I couldn’t believe it. I had tried not to get my hopes up so this felt like a dream come true.
“I’d been so focussed on the present, but this outcome meant that I could now look to the future.”
Tegan was accepted onto an accounting and finance course at Leeds Beckett University in September 2019, and is now in her final year.
She said: “I thought I was going to die when I first found out I had cancer. It was spreading fast and I was so scared.
“To now have the all-clear is amazing, I feel like I’ve been given a new lease of life.
“But I would say to anyone who is concerned about their health to keep returning to their doctors until answers are given.
“Cancer in young people often isn’t talked about and I never thought I could be diagnosed with cancer so young.”
Research from the Teenage Cancer Trust shows that awareness of the main warning signs of cancer in young people is “concerningly low”.
The trust says that seven in 10 young people (18-24) are unable to identify the five main warning signs of cancer.
These are: lumps, unexplained tiredness, mole changes, pain, and significant weight change.
Louise Soanes, Chief Nurse at Teenage Cancer Trust stressed the importance of spotting early warning signs.
She said: “Cancer is far less likely to affect young people than older adults, but when it does it can have a devastating impact, so being able to spot potential warning signs that could lead to an earlier diagnosis really can make a difference”.