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C4S: What form of cancer did you have?
Michelle: I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which is a form of bone cancer.
C4S: When did you realise something was wrong?
Michelle: I never really thought anything was wrong. Because I was so active, I assumed I’d pulled something or hurt myself during exercise. I thought it was a sports injury, so we rubbed ointment in but the pain just didn’t go away.
We then went to see a GP and he gave me anti-inflammatory pills but it didn’t help, so he referred us to a orthopedist specialising in sport injuries. He then gave me another three weeks of anti-inflammatory pills but the pain still didn’t go away, so that’s when I had an MRI and found out.
C4S: How was the news broken to you?
Michelle: They told my mum first whilst I was at school. When I came back from school my mum said that I’d have to skip school the following day for some tests because there was something wrong with my leg.
C4S: How did you take the news?
Michelle: I was only fourteen at the time, so I didn’t really know what it meant to have cancer. I mean I knew what it was, and that people die from it, but didn’t actually know what it was.
I took my diagnosis pretty lightly until I saw my mum crying. I didn’t fully understand what it meant until I started chemotherapy. I was more afraid of not being able to do sports than having cancer!
C4S: How often did you go into hospital?
Michelle: For every chemo I did, I would be hospitalised for a few days, depending on what drug it was. I would then go home, and the length of that break in between treatment was also dependent on the drug. Some drugs had shorter breaks and some longer.
C4S: Did you ever enjoy being in hospital?
Michelle: I never liked being in hospital, but I would try and do things that made me feel better. I would watch movies on my laptop. I slept a lot too. Occasionally my friends would come and visit, but that was quite rare because they had school. They would sing in the room and do silly stuff!
C4S: What’s your favourite memory at hospital?
Michelle: My favourite memory in hospital was when a very important friend visited me and sat there and watched me be. It sounds very normal but…
C4S: Did you ever miss not being at school?
C4S: What was the toughest part of your journey?
Michelle: The toughest part was not being able to do what I wanted. Because I’m so active, I love to walk around and do things. When I had sarcoma I couldn’t do that anymore. I like hanging out with my friends and I couldn’t do it. I feel like when you’re away from your friends, they kind of forget about you because you’re not there anymore.
C4S: How did it feel to reintegrate into school life?
Michelle: For the entire year I was sick, I didn’t get to interact much with people my age. So when I went back to school, I closed up and didn’t really know how to make any friends. So I just sat there and waited for people to talk to me instead of me talking to them, which obviously didn’t really work out!
C4S: Did people treat you differently in school?
Michelle: Yes. I remember one time my teacher at school said ‘Let’s go up to the lab’ and my friend shouted ‘Oh we have a casualty here!’, pointing at me. It really offended me because I wanted to be treated like a normal person. But generally, they treat me quite normally.
C4S: How did you deal with losing your hair?
Michelle: For a long time I didn’t want to shave it off. It was so precious to me, but at the end I had no choice and just had to do it.
C4S: Did you feel that people would look at you differently?
Michelle: Yes. Some people do stare a lot. Some kids, some aunties. They just stare at me and then I look at them and like ‘What are you staring at?’. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I thought that people would look at me differently, that they’d judge me. It took my parents quite a long time to get me out of the house.
C4S: How would you want people to react ideally?
Michelle: I’d rather people just didn’t stare. I mean people do ask, and I don’t hide it, but sometimes I’d rather not talk about it, so I’d say I fell down.
C4S: What did you think about when you were in hospital?
Michelle: I thought a lot about what I’d do once I finish the chemotherapy and recovered. That’s what I thought most about. Thinking about my friends just upset me because I couldn’t be there with them and hang out with them, so I tried to push those thoughts away and think about other things, like what movie to watch.
C4S: Who helped you get through sarcoma?
Michelle: My family. They really, really supported me. Mum had actually just got a new job when I was diagnosed with cancer. She quit her job after a week. She stayed with me for every hospital stay.
C4S: How does sarcoma impact you now?
Michelle: After I finished chemo, I thought my leg would get better very quickly. But it really wasn’t the case. I did physiotherapy a while after my chemo and was doing really well. I went back to school, and got really busy with school and couldn’t do physiotherapy as often. Immediately my leg started getting weaker again. I realised it takes a very long time for it to get better.
C4S: Do you think people really know what cancer’s about?
Michelle: I feel a lot of people associate cancer with depression. To be honest, I wasn’t at all depressed. I actually tried to enjoy the whole journey as much as possible, and just really think of the good side. I would say that it’s not as depressing as you think it is.
C4S: Do you have an idol?
Michelle: My oncologist is my idol. I really want to be like her when I grow up. She helps her patients save money, and helps people who sacrifice a lot for their child and their treatment.
C4S: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Michelle: I want to be a paediatric oncologist. I had sarcoma, and so I want to help people who are going through a similar journey.
A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO MICHELLE AND RORY FLANAGAN FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN