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'I was told there is only a 2pc chance I can have a baby after the radiation'

DUBLINER Lindsey Sweetman is 20. Like most people her age, she worries about finding work -- but she is also burdened by the possibility that she may never be able to have children.

Lindsey is a former child cancer patient, one of around 120 cases a year recorded among the under-15s in the Republic.

When she was five, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which affects the immune system. She was treated with chemotherapy.

Two years later, she suffered a relapse and was diagnosed with leukaemia, for which she was treated with further chemotherapy and radiation.

Her treatment also involved a bone marrow transplant when she was eight years old.


While she has now long passed the crucial five-year all-clear mark, she admits that the fear of developing another cancer "never goes away", and the side-effects of her treatment are a daily cause for concern.

"I had whole-body radiation as a child, and that's one of the treatments that have the most side-effects.

"I was told that there was only a 2pc chance that I may have children one day, that's because of the radiation which had to be done around my hips and ovaries area.

"I could also have an early menopause so it does put a lot of things into perspective," she said.

"My lungs were affected because I had radiation around the chest area, and I have problems with my bones because of the chemotherapy.

"I was also diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), an underactive thyroid gland, and hormonal imbalance, which are all direct results of my treatment."

The likelihood of relapsing diminishes once a childhood and teen cancer survivor reaches the five-year mark.

While nearly 80pc of Irish children and teens reach that key date, the majority of them will see their lives affected in one way or another by the illness.

Cancer treatments are always evolving, and while some conditions can now be countered with short treatments that are neither too harsh nor too invasive, other types of cancer -- like Lindsey's -- require a harsh combination of radiotherapy and a type of chemotherapy that are bound to have after-effects.

In that case, and in the absence of another remedy, oncologists must weigh up the potential after-effects with the likelihood of survival.

Lindsey would like to save enough money to do a course in the UK that will enable her to become a play therapist.

She welcomed the CanTeen cancer support group, saying "survivors of childhood cancer need somewhere where they can be themselves".

"My other friends would always worry if I can do this or that, but in CanTeen, everyone has it in common, so you can relax and be the person you want to be."