Going through what I did when I was so young was terrifying
1st September 2021
Eilidh Mackay and her family were devastated when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia aged just 14. Then, after three difficult years of treatment, her world was turned upside down again when she found out that she also had thyroid cancer. Amazingly, Eilidh is now cancer-free and telling her story to help raise awareness of the urgent need for more research.
The number of people diagnosed with leukaemia every day in the UK in 2020
The number of leukaemia projects we have funded since 1979
“I was 14 when I began suffering with extremely bad lung pain in 2016 - I used to joke to my friends that I thought I had a punctured lung.”
I went back and forth to the GP until finally I was diagnosed with asthma and given an inhaler to help when the pain flared up. I then started suffering with intense leg pain, to the point where I was struggling to walk. More trips to my local A&E with my mum followed, but the diagnosis was a simple one – growing pains – even though by this point I couldn’t even walk to school.
I tried to get on with my daily life, but the pain never eased. In fact, it was getting worse by the day, to the point where the pain consumed me. Eventually, I was referred to the local children’s ward for tests, where my mum brought up the fact that no one had taken bloods the entire time I had been suffering.
I was given my first of many cannulas and was kept in overnight. The next morning my Mum and I were rushed by ambulance to the Schiehallion Ward - the children’s cancer ward - in Glasgow Super Hospital.
“That’s when my mum received the devastating news that I had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.”
I don’t remember much about when I was told, apart from the moment when I fully realised that I was extremely unwell and had an incredibly difficult journey ahead of me – I felt an overwhelming surge of anger that this was happening to me and my family.
I started chemotherapy immediately but had an extremely negative reaction to the drugs. After completing only three of the four weeks of treatment, complications started to arise. I was placed in an induced coma in intensive care before undergoing lifesaving surgery. The doctors had to look through at least 25 years of records to find a reaction like mine.
The operation was to repair my stomach, which had been extensively damaged by the chemotherapy – meaning that I now needed a stoma bag. When I was finally brought out my coma, I woke up thinking it had been just one night’s sleep. I could not have been more wrong; I had lost two months of my life. All I could do was blink – I have had to work extremely hard to relearn everything again.
In August 2017, I went for a reversal operation of my stoma. Unfortunately, there were complications resulting in me being left with a fistula. I still have my fistula bag, but I have found a specialist who is confident that she can remove it in the near future in a two-part reversal surgery.
“Unfortunately, my cancer journey still wasn’t over yet.”
In February 2019, when I was aged 17, I once again heard the news that everyone dreads, when I was told that I also had thyroid cancer. It was such a shock knowing I had not one but two totally different forms of cancer at such a young age.
I finished treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in July 2019, only to immediately begin treatment for thyroid cancer – which involved surgery to remove both my thyroid and the tumour.
After everything that both my body and the world had thrown at me, I never expected the water to settle. There was always a huge wave coming that would drag me back under. But finally, in July 2019, I rang the “end of treatment” bell, which signalled the end of my treatment journey for both cancers.
I invited family, friends, and hospital staff to come and celebrate this momentous occasion with me. By the time everyone arrived, the ward was half full! It was one of the best days I have ever experienced, and I will never forget it.
I wrote a speech to thank every single person who had stood beside me and cared for me throughout my journey with cancer. They had saved my life! They are all heroes in my eyes. My heroes.
I am still relearning how to walk, and at the moment currently use a wheelchair. In December 2019, I walked for the first time unaided - which was a huge step in my rehabilitation. Slowly, I am getting my strength back.
“This year I celebrated my two-year cancer-free milestone and I’m looking forward to the future.”
Cancer has definitely changed my life, in both good and bad ways. I have a new perspective on life and am so much more grateful for everything around me, but I have been left with both physical and mental scars.
In a way I feel as though I am four years behind my friends. From the age of 14 to 18, my life was completely focused on my cancer and treatment, whilst my friends were doing all the normal things that teenagers do. Sometimes I feel like a 15-year-old who is trying to catch up, because my body clock stopped and restarted years later.
After my own life-changing cancer journey, I decided to share my story. Going through what I did when I was so young was terrifying, and I wanted to let others in similar situations know that they are not alone. Over the years, I have used my Instagram page to speak about topics close to my heart. I have met so many teenagers going through the same as me and have such a close bond with them.
“I have lost nine friends which has affected me deeply, but I want to keep their names alive and fight each day to raise awareness and do them proud.”
I hope to raise more awareness of misdiagnosis of blood cancers but also childhood cancer in general, so that in the future fewer children will have to suffer like I did. By sharing my story, I can help remove some of the stigma that comes with the illness and the changes that those affected have to embrace.
It has taken me a while to come to terms with the battle I’ve been through but knowing that I am doing my bit to help others and change the world for the better, has helped me heal. I will always be a cancer kid and I have learnt to be empowered by this. I will always keep the door to my cancer life ajar so I can revisit memories when I want to, but I will not let cancer control or define me anymore.
Cures for cancer are out there! We are making amazing progress, but we still have a long way to go. If we can make more progress into just one type of cancer, it will help us better understand how the disease works and help find more cures along the way – and save so many lives.
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