Earlier this year Danni (23) was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She had to have surgery in the Ulster Hospital followed by sessions of radioactive iodine treatment in Belfast.
Danni is sharing her experience as a young adult diagnosed with cancer to raise awareness of the support that is available for teenagers and young adults living with cancer in Northern Ireland.
“It is hard to pin point when exactly I was first diagnosed. I remember rubbing my hands over my neck, feeling a lump and thinking it was maybe a spot forming. It was just something that was in the back of my mind.
This is not Normal
A couple of months later in November 2020 I started feeling really fatigued. I would work about three hours a day and would come home and be absolutely knackered. I could sleep almost an entire day, waking up for a couple of hours and then going back to sleep again. It got to the point that I started to think there must be something wrong with me. All my friends would be out and I couldn’t meet them because I was so tired. I knew this wasn’t normal.
I rang my doctor and they told me to come over immediately. The doctor checked my lump and told me that it felt fine. I went home again and completely forgot about it. Then a couple of weeks later I got a letter to come for a biopsy at a very small clinic in Belfast. It was all very quick. They did the biopsy and I was in and out in about five minutes.
That was in January. I didn’t hear back from them until about July. I turned 22 on the 2nd of July 2021. It was a very strange birthday for me. The hospital asked me to come back for another biopsy. Suddenly people seemed a bit awkward around me. I thought nothing of it but my mum thought it must be bad news. She works in the hospital and was so worried.
I had my second biopsy and the next day I was called in for a conversation with my GP. She asked me to bring a parent with me so I brought my mum and my dad. It felt like she was trying to prepare us for the news. She told me bad cells had been found in my neck. We weren’t sure what that meant.
I can’t really remember what happened after that
Two or three days after that they called me into hospital and the doctor told me I had thyroid cancer. I can’t really remember what happened after that. There were lots of phone calls, consultations, signing forms, talking to my surgeon. I was literally in hospital every other day. Then I had a full thyroidectomy and had 42 lymph nodes removed from my neck, of which 18 were cancerous. I also had to have two radioactive iodine treatments to kill the thyroid cells.
Whenever I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I was pretty numb to it all. It was like I was just there and everyone was chaotic around me. It felt weird to get that much attention all of a sudden. I am a pretty quiet person and suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me and see how I was. I didn’t know what to say to them. At the start it was too hard to think about. My friends wanted to make memories with me and it made me feel like they thought that I was going to die. It was really weird to think about it like that.
After my surgery I really struggled with my cancer diagnosis which is why I started the counselling at Cancer Focus. I messaged my nurse Lisa from the Teenage Cancer Trust and told her I was feeling really depressed. I think the surgery changed a lot for me and I am still having problems from it now.
Turing Negatives to Positives
Cancer Fund for Children has supported me in so many ways. They helped to change the way I felt about my cancer. At the start I felt morbid, and everything felt horrible and grey.
When I was introduced to my Cancer Support Specialist, Helen she helped turn everything I saw as a negative into a positive. She looked for the bright side of what was happening and that was something I had really struggled to do.
Helen introduced me and my family to Daisy Lodge. That was a really nice experience for us. I was too ill to do much at the time because I was really fatigued and sick. However, Daisy Lodge was so relaxing. There was no pressure for me to do anything. This was somewhere for us to go as a family and relax together. My sister and I took part in the arts and crafts which was so much fun. We made lots of things that we took home and my parents have now framed.
I have also been to Daisy Lodge with my boyfriend for the young adult short break. We didn’t really talk about cancer at all. It was so nice for us to meet other people going through a similar experience to me. Being there was the highlight of my month. It is such a beautiful place.
I took part in Cancer Fund for Children and Young Lives Vs Cancer ‘The C Tea’ podcast to show other people with a similar diagnosis to me that they could relate to someone. Three of us took part in the podcast which was really good because everyone’s experience of cancer is so different. This was the first time I met people my age with the same diagnosis as me and it was nice to have a conversation with them. I had lots of questions about things I experienced during my treatment that I was able to ask them about.
My boyfriend, Josh recently did a skydive for Cancer Fund for Children. He was over the moon! He said it felt so amazing coming down. He made a sponsor page and he wrote all about me. I thought that was so nice.
I have finished most of my treatment now. I’m doing well and they are spacing out my appointments. Now I have an appointment with my surgeon every six months. I am having scar therapy because I was having muscle and nerve problems under my scar. Action Cancer is giving me a treatment where they massage the scar and it helps the area underneath. Since I have been going there, I have gained a lot more feeling.
My experience would have been very different without Cancer Fund for Children’s support. My family organised a charity night and asked me who I wanted to support. I immediately said Cancer Fund for Children because they have helped me so much. Helen has really helped to change my feelings about cancer. She has helped me take the negative and think about it in a positive way. I have been able to do things that have helped me to get me out of the house and are helping other people too. A girl messaged me and said she had found me on Facebook after listening to the podcast. She is getting treatment for thyroid cancer and wanted to talk to me and I have had a few phone calls with her.
There are so many things I want people to know about cancer
There are so many things I want people to know about cancer. I want people to know that some people don’t have the kind of diagnosis that everyone associates with being a cancer patient. Thyroid cancer patients don’t have a visible cancer. We might not look ill and don’t lose our hair. I am putting on weight instead of losing it because I don’t have my thyroid. I look completely different from how people expect me to look.
I think people can sometimes be dismissive when you don’t look the way they expect a cancer patient to look, but that’s not always the case. I think people need to be more patient with people with thyroid cancer like me.
Thank you, Danni, for sharing your story. Find out more about the support we offer to teenagers and young adults with cancer here.
Listen to Danni’s The C Tea podcast here.