Teenager tells of cancer ordeal

FOR Robbie Brown, spending Christmas in hospital became reality last year when he found himself in the Beatson Oncology Unit after being diagnosed with a rare spinal tumour.

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Robbie Brown at the Beatson Oncology Unit, where he must still go for regular check-ups Pictures:  Martin Shields
Robbie Brown at the Beatson Oncology Unit, where he must still go for regular check-ups Pictures: Martin Shields

Robbie, then 18, had developed a Ewing's sarcoma, a type of cancer that attacks bones and soft tissue.

He said: "It's not something I had ever heard of before and, to be honest, I still don't know too much about it.

"It was growing down my spine and there were flecks of tumour discovered in my lungs as well.

"I still don't like to talk about my diagnosis but one of the symptoms is pain - and I did have pain in my back."

Robbie, from Rutherglen, had just started his studies at Cardonald College, now Glasgow Clyde College, when he was diagnosed in August 2011.

Fewer than 30 children and young people in the UK develop Ewing's sarcoma each year and it is more common in boys.

Robbie was admitted to the Beatson, in the West End, where the Teenage Cancer Trust has a dedicated unit for older teenagers.

At first, doctors said Robbie would have to undergo nine months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But the treatment made him so ill - at one point he was in intensive care - that it was stopped after six months.

Despite being allowed home early, Robbie suffered from repeated infections.

And he ended up back in hospital on Boxing Day, and spent the rest of the festive season in hospital.

Robbie added: "It wasn't much of a New Year. I was alone in my room for most of it, though the nurses made an effort to bring round juice and wish us happy New Year.

"I texted my parents to wish them happy New Year but I just remember feeling quite alone."

What helped Robbie, now 19, through that difficult time, he said, was being in the Teenage Cancer Trust's unit.

With games, guitars, computers and a kitchen, the unit tries to give some normality to young people going through an experience that is anything but normal.

It also gives them the chance to meet others in a similar situation.

Robbie said: "I made some good friends.

"It wasn't inspiring, exactly, to see other people coping with the same situation but it did make a big difference - especially at Christmas and New Year when you're missing out on all the usual things that you do to celebrate.

"I missed so many celebrations last year."

Scans now show that Robbie's lungs and spine are clear of the tumour.

However, Robbie was left without the use of his legs by the illness and must now use a wheelchair.

Despite this, he is back at college and, to give him independence, has learned to drive an adapted car.

He's studying for a qualification in film production and photography and is determined not to let his illness hold him back.

Although he goes to the Beatson regularly for check-ups, Robbie's future is looking bright.

And he's also determined that this year's festivities are going to go better than last year's.

He added: "Christmas and New Year this year are definitely going to be better. I want to spend them with my family and friends. I'm actually looking forward to it this year.

"But next year's going to be even better, as I move further away from the time I had my treatment.

"Things will just get better and better."

Around 200 young people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland each year.

Not only do young people have to deal with a potentially life-threatening illness, they can often be left alone and scared in hospital.

Many may never meet another young person going through the same experience.

The Teenage Cancer Trust says this can have a significant negative impact on their outlook, confidence and approach to treatment, as well as their ability to integrate back into life after treatment.

The Beatson facility offers young cancer patients care and support as well as access to treatment options via the specialist team of nursing and support staff - all experts in teenage and young adult cancer care.

The additional support young patients receive from each other is also an invaluable part of the service.

Teenage Cancer Trust runs four units in Scotland: at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh; The Western General, Edinburgh; at Glasgow's Yorkhill Hospital and at the Beatson.

It is now looking to raise £500,000 to replace the Yorkhill unit with facilities at the new Children's Hospital at Glasgow's Southern General.

See www.teenagecancertrust.org for more information.

catriona.stewart@ eveningtimes.co.uk


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