Meet Keeslee, diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, aged 21

Meet Keeslee, diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, aged 21

I am a Wedding Planner from the Forest of Dean, and was working full time planning, managing and running weddings pre cancer. My Doctor advised me to go sick in March, as I was having lots of different tests and she thought it would be best until they got to the bottom of it. I loved going out with my friends, either for bottomless brunches, food or drinks on a night out.
I was 21 when I was diagnosed. It was a month before my 22nd birthday. I work as a wedding planner and had around 60 couples a year to look after, so when I started to feel unwell I thought that it was because I was busy at work.

I started getting really itchy legs during the weddings, so I thought it was either because I was standing up a lot, or because of my eczema from the past. I also lost a lot of weight and went from 11 and a half stone to ten stone, which I put down to my stressful role. My tolerance for alcohol also went down and I started to retch after nights out.
One day in March 2023 I was in the office, and I had a weird feeling at the top of my stomach. It felt like I had eaten something dodgy. The feeling moved down until it was in my abdomen. It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep without taking paracetamol. The pain became excruciating over a week, so I went to the doctors.

I’d made a list of my symptoms, and the doctor was amazing. She felt my stomach and because she couldn’t feel anything obvious that was causing the pain, she did a blood test. She also suggested I get checked out for STIs just in case, which came back clear. My doctor was concerned and got an appointment for the next day. I had a top and bottom endoscopy.
My doctor was seeing me regularly whilst I was waiting for the results and when I went in one day, I had a lump in my neck the size of a golf ball. I had an ultrasound a few days later and they asked me to return for a biopsy the following day. While I was waiting for the results I was in so much pain. 

I was asked if I had heard of lymphoma, but I hadn’t. The doctor said it was treatable and because I'm young It can be curable. I didn’t know it was cancer, I was just confused. I was told I had to come back at 8:30AM a few hours later in the morning to see the consultant. We asked what it was and that’s when they told me I had cancer. It was quite a surreal moment as I had my mum there. I was in utter shock. I live in the Forest of Dean, and I didn’t know any young people who'd had cancer. The whole community was shocked.
It would hit me every day when I woke up. I would think: ‘Is this really happening?’ I got really upset when I first told family and close friends, but then after a week I was quite emotionless when telling people. It wasn’t until I went in to have my first chemo session that it really hit me again. I started my chemo in June 2023 just after I was diagnosed in May 2023 and had four cycles, finishing in August 2023. Because I live some distance from the hospital, I was allowed to stay over Monday to Wednesday every other week. It helped that I could have visitors and people could stay late into the evening.

The unit was just incredible. It really helped being in a nice environment. I made a good friend who was having treatment on the same days as me. We’d talk about our experiences and bonded really quickly. Going through cancer and being accepted made me feel more comfortable to tell people that I am gay. Before I didn’t like telling people as I didn’t know how they’d react. I now realise that if people don’t like me being gay then that’s their issue.

I couldn't work and was signed off as sick. This meant I spent the most time I had ever spent at home. It brought me closer to family and friends. You soon realise how much it brings people together. Cancer has made me realise life is too short and it’s given me the push to go to America for a month to visit a friend. She came to the UK as a wedding planner, and we worked together and became close. I was going to see her, but she was diagnosed with cancer. When she was feeling well enough for me to visit, I was diagnosed. Now is the perfect time for me to go and see her. 

One of the late effects would be my mental health. My mental health is so much worse now and was surprisingly better when I was going through cancer. When I was going through it I was on auto pilot and In a bubble. Being organised and doing things I enjoy like going out with friends or shopping is how I get through it and keeps my mind at bay.
I heard about Teens Unite through social media, and others who have been through similar situations sharing their stories. I believe it will be a great support system for me post cancer now I’m in remission as I will be able to meet people of the same age who’ve had a similar experience. The networking opportunities are also great, as I can help others by sharing my story.
Charities like Teens Unite are so important to help with mental health reasons and having good experiences to look forward to after such a turbulent time.

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