Rafed English

I had cancer at 14

In November 2006, at the age of 14, Charlotte Esler was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. She is now in remission.

"For at least nine months before I was diagnosed, I started getting really bad breathing problems. We'd just been on a hiking holiday, so I noticed it a lot then, and I was convinced I had asthma.

"If I got stressed, I'd get a tightness in my chest and in my back. I went to the doctor. He listened to my chest and said I was fine.

"But I kept going back, and eventually I was sent to see a paediatric consultant. Various tests, X-rays and heart scans were done."

Shadow over lungs

"The tests were all clear except the X-ray, where there was a white shadow over my lungs. I was convinced I'd moved when they were taking the X-ray.

"Then I came back for another more fancy type of scan, called a CT scan, and they said that there was volume in the shadow.

"They called me in to the paediatric inpatient department, and said: ‘Come prepared to stay the night’. That was pretty scary. The uncertainty was the worst bit.

"The doctors said they weren't sure exactly what was wrong, but it was either leukaemia or a lymphoma. At the time, I thought they were joking, because I just didn't see why I'd get cancer. I don't think I'm ever going to smoke, I eat healthily and we don't have any hereditary conditions in our family.


"Eventually they said I had Hodgkin's lymphoma. They told me, if you're going to get a cancer, lymphoma is probably the best because the treatment period is quite short. It was only four months.

"I thought it was one of those things where only lucky people survive, but it turns out that, particularly with children, there's an amazing prognosis. Something like 70% of children are completely cured forever.

"When it's given a name, that gives you a sense of security. At least you know what you've got and people know how to treat you."

Hair loss

"I was given a two-week dose of chemotherapy, and then two weeks off.

"The worst bit was definitely losing my hair. I think it's worse if you're a girl because, obviously, most girls have longer hair than boys so you've got a lot more to lose. They provide you with a free NHS wig but I chose not to wear that because it never looks like your normal hair. I wore a beanie hat instead.

"I was vomiting and had really, really awful muscle pain, from my lower back to about my mid-calf, which lasted for ages.

"I got gastroenteritis as a secondary infection. On chemo, because of your low immunity, you have a really low white blood cell count. So you just can't fight it."

Going to school

"I carried on going to school, and I still want to go to university. I was determined not to let cancer stop that.

"There's a 95% chance that I'm cured forever, which means that there's only a 5% chance it will come back, which sounds minute. But the chance of getting cancer as a child is something like one in 500, so compared with that, 5% sounds like a massive figure.

"The word 'cancer' has sort of changed its meaning. Before, it was a really shocking word to hear. It's still scary, but I'd say probably not as scary. Now I think I could give my friends and family a lot more advice if they got it, and would be able to empathise with them."

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