One of the youngest people to be diagnosed with a form of cancer usually affecting older men has spoken of the long-term psychological effects of her illness.
Brave Kirsten Champley was just 17 years old when she was told she had bladder cancer – something that is extremely rare for her age group.
Statistics from Fight Bladder Cancer UK show the majority of people are over 60 when they are diagnosed and that about two-thirds of suffers are men – though more females are now getting the disease.
Now 23, Kirsten has spoken of how she handled her initial diagnosis well, but that she has been greatly affected psychologically by the fear of the cancer coming back.
She said: “When I was 17 I lost lots of weight.
“They thought I was anorexic and I had to see nutritionist.
People say that when you’ve had it you live life more because you could have nearly died – but it’s the opposite for meKirsten Champley
“I also got lots of water infections for about a year and my mum took me to the doctors’ and begged them to do something.
“When I found out it was bladder cancer I was told I was the youngest in the UK to have it.
“They have never known it to happen, it’s generally people who are at least in their 40s or older.
“I’ve just got bad luck I guess.
“I don’t think it actually kicked in at the time and my mum and dad actually thought I took it too well – I didn’t think about it really.
“It was at Stage 2 – nearly Stage 3 – and they lasered the tumour away and I was on chemo tablets – so I didn’t lose my hair – and other medication for a good few months.
“Every three months I went to see the doctors at the RVI, then every six months for the first three years after the operation.
“Now I go every year and touch wood, it hasn’t come back.”
Because it was a rare cancer, the usual three years in remission have been doubled to six years before Kirsten can be given the all-clear.
Despite being in remission, the experience has left its psychological scars for Kirsten, who suffers from depression and anxiety from worrying about the cancer returning.
According to Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, the disease has the highest recurrence rate of any form of cancer — of between 50% and 80%.
This is something that is weighing heavily on Kirsten’s mind.
Kirsten, who lives in Haswell, says her parents were told while she was in hospital that the cancer was certain to come back at some point in the near or distant future.
“I’m scared that it will come back,” she said. “I am seeing a psychologist at the RVI, who is helping me deal with it, that just because I get a water infection doesn’t mean it is going to be that, but it’s difficult.
“The first time I got a scare everything came back to me.
“I was in hospital for a while after getting really bad belly pains and water infections again.
“People say that when you’ve had it you live life more because you could have nearly died, but it’s the opposite for me.”
The diagnosis meant Kirsten who studied hairdressing at college, had to abandon her career in the salon where she worked.
She is still on sick leave due to depression and anxiety, but is hoping to be well enough go to university and train to be a nurse working with young cancer patients.
She said: “I think I would really understand what they are going through because I have been through it myself.”
Her advice to others suffering from similar anxieties is: “Just go and talk to someone and let it all out because it helps.”
And she said she couldn’t have gone through it without mum Margaret and dad Derek – both 47 – and older sister Natasha, 27 by her side.
Her fiancé Mason Richardson, 25, a builders’ merchant from Murton, has also constantly been by her side.
Derek is a plastering lecturer at East Durham College and he and a group of colleagues are doing a coast to coast bike ride – setting off from Whitehaven and arriving in South Shields on Thursday evening.
They are raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which provided invaluable support for Kirsten.
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