Young cancer survivor from Yorkshire shares her 'diagnosis day' fears to bring hope to others

A young cancer survivor has spoken of her ordeal at just 18 as she hopes to bring a message of hope to others facing a fear over diagnosis.

Leeds' Tegan Clarke was in her first term at university when she was told she had Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, with a 20cm tumour growing in her chest.

Tegan Clarke, from Leeds, opens up about her cancer battle as she looks to shares a message of hope over survival.

Tegan Clarke, from Leeds, opens up about her cancer battle as she looks to shares a message of hope over survival.

She had been hysterical, she says, having never heard the accounts of any who had overcome the illness to lead long, happy lives.

As she speaks out over the harrowing pain she felt on the first day of diagnosis, she says what she wants to share is a message of optimism.

"I've had cancer, I have beaten it," she said. "It consumed my life, and my days, for a year. Now, I don't think about it. It doesn't define who I am.

"I got to walk away, but I know others that haven't. People need to hear about getting through it to survive."

Tegan Clarke, through treatment for Non-Hodgkins lympoma, was determined not to let cancer drag her down, and little things like decorating the mask she wore for radiotherapy helped.

Tegan Clarke, through treatment for Non-Hodgkins lympoma, was determined not to let cancer drag her down, and little things like decorating the mask she wore for radiotherapy helped.

Read more -> Yorkshire teenager refusing to be defined by cancer battle

Diagnosis

Miss Clarke, from Chapel Allerton, had just finished her A levels and was in her first term at university in London when she began to feel unwell.

She was incredibly tired but couldn't sleep, had night sweats and was struggling to eat as she felt as if there were something in her throat.

Tegan Clarke, now 20, has spoken of her 'diagnosis day' with cancer as she looks to spread a message of hope.

Tegan Clarke, now 20, has spoken of her 'diagnosis day' with cancer as she looks to spread a message of hope.

She would return repeatedly to the doctors, who would take tests and scans, and at one point give her medicine for acid reflux.

But on one visit, her heart rate spiking to unprecedented levels, she was admitted immediately to A&E amid fears she may have a heart attack.

The following morning, she woke to find a doctor standing over her bed. They believed it was cancer, the doctor said.

"I was on my own, I was 18," said Miss Clarke. "I was just in hysterics. I could not breath, I was crying so hard. They were trying to calm me down, but how could I?

Through her treatment for cancer, says Leeds' Tegan Clarke, she had wished she heard more stories from survivors.

Through her treatment for cancer, says Leeds' Tegan Clarke, she had wished she heard more stories from survivors.

"The only things I'd ever heard about cancer were really bad, I thought that nobody survives."

Read more -> 'I felt a burden on everybody' - Yorkshire youngster opens up about trauma of cancer battle at just 16

Recovery

In the days to follow, Miss Clarke was to be transferred to the teenage cancer unit at St James' Hospital, closer to family who would stay by her side.

She would undergo chemotherapy, then radiotherapy. On September 26, she was given the results.

"They said 'you've done it, you've beaten it," she recalls. "It was such a relief. I get to walk away. It could have been so much worse."

Miss Clarke, who returned to university this year but closer to home, is now studying accounting and finance at Leeds Beckett.

"I'm really lucky I've had such a strong family unit," the now 20-year old says. "They really came together as a team.

"I just needed to stay positive. I had plenty of things I wanted to live for, I just had to get through this and face it."

Positivity

Her outlook on life has changed following her cancer diagnosis, she says today. Had she had messages of hope when she was first diagnosed, she might not have been as fearful.

Now, she is determined to grab every opportunity.

"I took it really hard, felt as if it wasn't fair," she said. "I never got ill. I can't remember the last time I went to the doctor's before this.

"Then I got cancer. It took the wind out of me. Why me?

"Now, when people say I can't achieve something, I say I can do anything I want to.

"You've got one life - you might as well live it."

Read more -> Yorkshire teenager helping others after tumour the size of a melon found in rare ovarian cancer battle

Charity

Miss Clarke stars in a Teenage Cancer Trust campaign to share the stories of young people's diagnosis day.

The short film from the trust is aimed at sharing the experiences of those anniversaries which matter most to young people.

Throughout her treatment, Miss Clarke was support by nurses and support staff from the trust, based at a specialist unit at St James' Hospital in Leeds.

Liz Tait, director of Fundraising at Teenage Cancer Trust says: “Unfortunately, like Tegan says, the journey to diagnosis for many young people with cancer is a long one.

“Every day in the UK, seven young people aged 13-24 hear the news ‘you have cancer’.

"Teenage Cancer Trust’s specialist nurses and support staff are there to help, right through treatment and beyond."