Personal cancer story
I was 22 and studying at university when one day I discovered a lump in the pad of my right thumb. It wasn't painful and you couldn't see it, but I could definitely feel it. As I'm right handed it was important for me to know what it was, so I went saw my GP, who referred me to a hand surgeon.
That's when a scan revealed a pea-sized lump, around 7 mm, in my thumb. The surgeon said there was a 99% chance of it being benign, but I insisted on having it removed and biopsied.
My mum Tracey was with me when we got the results of the biopsy: the lump was actually a soft tissue cancer, called epithelioid sarcoma. When the specialist said the word ‘cancer’ I was terrified, and when he told me chemo and radiation weren't an option for my situation, and that I'd need to have some of my thumb amputated to get rid of the cancer, a million thoughts raced through my head. "How do you get cancer in your hand? I didn't even know that was a thing! Will I be able to shake hands anymore, or write? I'm a uni student, I need to be able to use my hand! I'm only 22, how is this happening?"
It all happened very fast – at 3pm we were in the surgeon's office, being told the news, and by 6am the next day, I was being prepped for surgery. I tried to stay calm by focussing on one thing at a time: first the surgery, then dealing with the results and whatever would happen next.
The surgeon took her time to make my thumb look as good as possible, and then I spent two weeks in hospital recovering from it all. I had therapy to learn to use my hand in an all-new way, even having to relearn how to pick things up and cut up food for myself.
I was so relieved when my test results came back and showed that the cancer had been removed. But I was still feeling the trauma of it all: it was stressful explaining to people what had happened, and I was anxious about the cancer returning and the possibility of any future amputations. I also felt isolated from my uni friends, who couldn't really understand all I’d been through.
Cancer Council 13 11 20, their support and information line, was really helpful ... and helped me get back into life."
Cancer Council 13 11 20, their support and information line, was really helpful. I spoke to a counsellor who helped me process the whole experience, and helped me get back into life. And gradually I got back into uni and was doing everything I’d done before.
I still need to have scans every six months, but it's looking like I have a good chance of being cancer-free from now on. Epithelioid sarcomas have a high chance of local recurrence, but because I had the whole area removed they were able to get it all. I'm now nearing one year since my diagnosis – and even with my some of my thumb missing, I'm back to playing the piano!
Not many good things usually come from a cancer diagnosis, but it all helped me prove to myself how resilient I am. I've had a few health scares in the past few years, including being very ill with meningitis and encephalitis at 19, but I've beaten every obstacle that's been put in my way. I'm just going to live my life, whatever comes my way.
The experience has also made me passionate about raising awareness of rare cancers, and teaching people that yes, young people can get cancer. If I can help spread that message, it will be the best thing to come from it all.
I want people to be proactive about their health; if you're worried about something, or you feel a lump or something that just doesn't feel right, get it checked out by a GP or specialist. Take control of your life, be informed, and know your options.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer