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Vanessa’s Story

This Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, 15-year-old Vanessa from Mayo is sharing her story to raise awareness of the impact of a childhood cancer diagnosis

I was always a very active person. I did a lot of running and my dad and I loved to hike. But in June 2022 I started to feel different. I lost motivation, felt very tired and had bad mood swings. I also had bruises on my legs.

I got a blood test done and was told I was anaemic but then one Friday evening we got a call to go to the hospital. The next morning, at 9am I found out I had leukaemia. After that, everything moved very fast. I was brought to Crumlin, had a procedure to put in my Hickman line, had my first round of chemo. I remember a lot of infection and pain and shaving my hair once it started to fall out.

When I went in for my second round of chemo I felt like everything was fine and I had tolerated it well. Then I developed an infection in my Hickman line and had to be taken to Galway. I felt very sick. They brought me to Dublin and all I could remember was having trouble breathing. I was asleep in ICU for 4 days and when I woke up I had no idea where I was, I just remember pain.

After that they had to remove my Hickman line and put in a new one. As I started to feel better, they started reducing my medication and that’s when the pain really kicked in. I couldn’t sit up or turn around by myself and I had to learn to walk again. That was probably the worst thing.

It took a lot of determination to push myself back to it, step by step

I had to go through another round of chemo and got another bug but it wasn’t as bad and so I got to go home for Christmas. In January I went back into hospital for my first transplant of stem cells. I was a bit sick but I got through it and ended up being one of the fastest people to leave the hospital after a transplant, getting out after 3 weeks instead of 6.

After that, they told me to go back to normal life and that was really hard. I felt like cancer had been my life for so long and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do anymore. I felt insecure when I compared myself to other girls my age who didn’t have Hickman lines and who had hair. I had to build my confidence up again, learning how to do my lashes, my eyebrows and put on my wig properly.

It was also really hard because I experienced a lot of bullying, which I had heard about but I didn’t think it would actually happen. People made fun of my nose tube and my wheelchair. They would call me cancer girl. I didn’t get upset because it was just so shocking that people could be that disrespectful.

When you’re going through cancer, you don’t need people to fix things, you just want them to listen

2 months ago I was told that I had relapsed and it took a while to process that. I have to go back for chemo and I will probably lose my hair again. I ask myself “why?” a lot. I just couldn’t understand how this was happening, and I still ask myself that question but I have told myself that what has to be done will be done. I just have to accept it and stay determined.

Recently, my family and I went to Daisy Lodge and the first thing I noticed was the view of the mountains. It took my heart. You can relax there, do normal things and forget about bloods and everything. Everyone there understands so they won’t be staring you down if you have short hair or have something on your body. I even got to see my friend from the hospital who was staying at the same time I was.

For kids that are only starting out on their cancer journey, I would say, stay determined and positive and don’t let anyone pull you down. Be strong for yourself and for your family. Dream about the future and what you have to look forward to.

Donate and help us grow our daisy chain this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month so young people like Vanessa don’t have to experience cancer alone.


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