'I’m so much more than a cancer survivor' - Teenager experiencing breathing difficulties told she had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
Courtney Jordan was just 17 years old when she began experiencing pressure on her chest, and breathing difficulties.
When these persisted, she sought medical advice, and doctors reasoned that she might have asthma or an allergy, or that the muscles in her chest were expanding with puberty.
But Courtney felt that something serious was wrong, and eventually an x-ray showed by lumps in her chest, and swellings of the lymph nodes were detected.
“Basically, I kept going back to A&E until I was listened to. On the third time I was asked my medical history, and when I said that my grandmother and my gran aunt had died of cancer, they began to look into it a little further.”
“Then they found a lump in the lymph nodes and they sent me for a biopsy.”
Courtney, a fifth year student in school, was told that she had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She would need 12 cycles of chemotherapy over the next six months.
“I was just relieved to have some sort of answer on what was going on. It all moved really quickly. I was told on the Wednesday and on the Friday I was meeting my oncologist in Waterford to talk about chemotherapy. I had the option to freeze my eggs if I wanted.”
“It was startling, you think about being really sick, losing your hair, but you never, ever think about the prospect of not having children; you’re not only thinking about yourself now but you’re also thinking about you in 10 or 15 years.”
Eventually, because the chemotherapy and recovery were so physically draining, Courtney had no option but to abandon her studies.
“I tried to go back to school for a couple of days in sixth year but I couldn’t, I had no sense of normality at all. It was really frustrating, you just had to put your life on pause but you didn’t know for how long. I had been given a really good prognosis, but at the same time everyone else in school was progressing, while I still didn’t know where I was. In the length of time that I was sick, I had missed that much school that it was just too hard going back.”
She added: “I lost all my hair. My little brother’s communion was the day after my second round of chemo, and two days later my hair started to fall out. I didn’t have the huge emotional attachment to my hair. The day I shaved it we went out in public and I realised then that no one cares; you get a few second glances but otherwise there was no reason not to be secure about it.”
Courtney has been given the all-clear, and is pursuing her dream of studying arts by firstly taking a PLC in arts this year. Luckily, she doesn't need to sit her leaving cert.
As she tries to move on from the illness that robbed her of two very important teenage years, she says a great support network is vital for anyone who is going through cancer treatment.
“I was really lucky with my family, they just treated me as they always treated me and my friends. My friends would check in to see if I was alright if we were walking together but they weren’t nurses to me. With other people, it was the first thing that came up in conversation – but I really felt, I'm a person aside from my sickness.”
However, she added: It was really hard socially; people who had never spoken to me before were making out to be my best friend and making out that I was an inspiration. It was like I wasn’t great before but cancer made me great, it feels fake.”
“You’d forget about it ever happening and then it’s brought up in conversation. But I’m so much more than a cancer survivor.”
The Irish Cancer Society's annual Daffodil Day fundraiser appeal takes place tomorrow. For more information, see cancer.ie