My mum took me to visit the doctor a few times because I had a cough that wasn’t going away (Picture: YOUNGLIVESvsCANCER)
My name is Theo, I live in Hertfordshire with my family. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 10. This is my story.
In November 2019, my mum took me to visit the doctor a few times because I had a cough that wasn’t going away.
I’d had it for at least a couple of months but apart from a few night sweats, I didn’t feel ill.
At the beginning, I didn’t think anything was wrong. After five visits to doctors, one of them discovered a lump in my neck a few days before Christmas. He referred me to a paediatrician and a few days later he sent me for an ultrasound.
On 2 January 2020, I had a biopsy. I was scared of the surgery and of going under general anaesthetic.
I didn’t worry until after my biopsy when I thought it was obviously something quite serious like cancer. I knew older people who had had cancer and I knew it was dangerous, bad and could kill people.
The following week, the doctor called my parents and told them that I had stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma.
The next morning, my parents sat me down in the living room and gave me the news. It was a shock. My first thought was that I could die.
There were all these scary thoughts of cancer in my head. My parents were frightened too and worried about the treatment I would have to go through. But the doctors helped reassure me and my mum and dad. They told us my cancer was treatable and it helped us feel more positive about the diagnosis.
After that, I was treated at University College London Hospital in London. I had lots of tests and scans, and my chemo started pretty quickly. The first couple of days I had chemo I was very sick, but then they got the right anti-sickness medication for me. It was very tiring, and my parents found it hard to see me suffer. I started to lose my hair about a month after I started treatment. I had a large collection of hats to wear as it was winter and very cold.
Hospital was OK. It’s never the best time – no-one really wants to be there in the first place (Picture: Sharon Ralph)
I had to go back and forth to hospital different days every week with each cycle of chemo lasting 28 days, and I had a mixture of chemo with drips and lots of pills. Medication can make you very sleepy and unwell and headachey and not feeling your best. If anyone being treated for cancer is feeling like that reading this, just know that it won’t last forever.
Even before Covid-19, I wasn’t allowed to do any fun things like swimming or trampolining either because of my PICC line. This is a tube inserted in the veins in my arm so that I can have chemo without having to get a cannula put in every visit. It needs to be kept dry so I wasn’t allowed to go swimming or do hard activities.
Just before my third round, the children’s ward I was in got turned into a coronavirus ward, so my treatment was moved and continued in the nearby Macmillan cancer centre.
Hospital was OK. It’s never the best time – no-one really wants to be there in the first place – but the staff do take care of you and they are very supportive. When you’re at your worst, they can really just give you that boost to help you get back up again.
As the pandemic started, my family and I had to shield. As I had no immune system during treatment, we thought it was best if the whole family stayed in isolation to protect me.
I would describe myself as kind, outgoing, and very smiley. I like to make others smile too (Picture: Sharon Ralph)
It was hard and stressful. I was scared that if I caught Covid I wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital to continue my chemo, meaning my cancer could develop.
I couldn’t even go for a walk with friends or see them at the door on my birthday. My mum and dad bought me a phone so that I could keep in touch with them on WhatsApp.
I was in year six at the time, so my friends had all gone back to school after half term, but I wasn’t able to. Luckily, my cancer responded well to treatment and I didn’t need radiotherapy.
In April 2020, after four rounds of gruelling chemotherapy, two in lockdown, I was in remission. I had the scan in May to confirm the cancer was gone and I was in remission. I was so happy it was gone and relieved I didn’t need any more treatment. But as lockdown was going on and my immune system was compromised, I couldn’t go out and celebrate.
I still have follow-up appointments, but hopefully it will not return. I was able to go back three weeks before the end of term and spend time with my friends before we finished primary school which was nice.
My school was very supportive, both the staff and my friends. They even built a relaxing space for when I got tired. The hospital was in close contact with my teachers and the nursing staff were really helpful – always able to put a smile on my face during my challenging period.
Our Young Lives vs Cancer social worker Becky supported me and my mum during treatment, visiting us in hospital on the days I was in. Becky came over to see us on my first day of treatment and talked with me and my mum, helping us understand what to expect in hospital.
Becky organised for me to get a Nintendo Switch to keep me entertained in hospital and offered to help us with other issues we might face. She even got in touch with Supershoes who are a great charity that paint shoes and personalise them for children with cancer. That really cheered me up!
If I could change anything about any child having cancer it would definitely be for them to not really have any side effects of chemo and not have to attend treatment sessions so often. I’d love it if a cure was found so that children can still enjoy their lives and their future.
I want to tell you a bit about me as well as my story – because I am more than my cancer.
Some of my favourite things to do are baking – especially chocolate chip cookies – as well as going to the cinema with my friends and going out places like to the nearby trampoline park with them. I really, really do not like spicy food or chores. The worst chore is hoovering!
I would describe myself as kind, outgoing, and very smiley. I like to make others smile too.
Talking about it has helped me but really I want to help others (Picture: Sharon Ralph)
A few things I like about being a child are not having to worry about anything, being supported by my parents and not being completely alone.
When I grow up I want to be a digital designer, to work on computers or maybe music. The online world has always interested me, as well as graphics and logos.
If I had one wish it would be to end world hunger and illness so everyone can live a happy and healthy life.
Something that scares me is the thought of ever having to go to hospital again.
When I am older, I am looking forward to being independent, being able to do what I want, not having to go to certain places and making my own choices.
I want to raise awareness for Hodgkin lymphoma. Both in GPs and young people. I also want more young survivors to speak out about their experience. Talking about it has helped me but really I want to help others.
If I could share anything about having cancer as a child, I would say: it may sound scary and it may make you feel down at the time, but there are lots of people to support you and you can get better.
I just want people to know that in case it might help others.
Throughout Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Young Lives vs Cancer is calling on people to help support children like Theo facing cancer by getting a Young Lives vs Cancer gold ribbon pin badge.
The badges are available at Young Lives vs Cancer charity shops, Morrisons stores, or you can order one online at for a suggested £1 donation.