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Gillian

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

C4S: Tell us a bit about yourself and your story. 

Gillian: I diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in my spine, which is really, really rare. Most cases with bone cancer commonly occur at the shoulder, elbow or knees. I’ve had multiple relapses along the way, but the biggest blow happened January this year. The cancer spread around my spinal cord, making me paraplegic from waist down. Although there was a chance it could happen, none of us actually thought it would. I completed my studies in School Of The Arts just last year, and was getting ready to head off to Japan to pursue my studies in Product Design at the Kyoto University of Art and Design. But, my plans were put to a halt because of the latest predicament. I’m now taking a gap year to hopefully recover before applying to anymore art institutions.

C4S: How old were you when you were diagnosed with sarcoma? When did you realise something was wrong?

Gillian: It was 2009 and I was 12 years old at that time. I’d just completed my PSLE. I was having pain around my left abdomen, but the doctor just passed it off as Stress-Induced Gastritis. I remember tolerating the pain for about 3 months until it was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.

C4S: How did your parents and siblings respond to the news? 

Gillian: They were undoubtedly devastated of course, no one would have thought it was cancer.

C4S: How was the treatment? What were your side effects?

Gillian: The treatment was harsh. My chemotherapy cycles lasted about a year. There were many side effects; the usual being nausea, pain, loss of appetite, the spiralling of blood count, infections and the unavoidable hair loss. 

C4S: What is your best memory at hospital?

Gillian: There were art and music therapy sessions to keep us occupied and distracted while we were having our chemo, so that was quite fun!

C4S: What was the hardest part of the journey? 

Gillian: Hmm, it would have to be missing out on a lot of things. But it wasn’t so bad, because I also had time for myself to think and reflect.

C4S: Did you have to stop school? 

Gillian: Yup, I didn’t attend school for the whole year. When I finally completed my treatment course, I had to join the year below.  

C4S: Did you make any friends during your treatment? Did that help you cope?

Gillian: I met a few patients during my frequent stays in the hospital, one of whom is my closest friend now. Definitely! Having someone going through similar struggles really bridged many gaps because you can actually relate to each other. It helped elevate a lot of internal struggles. 

C4S: Were friends and family crucial for your recovery?

Gillian: Yes of course, they were my pillar of strength and encouragement. People don’t often talk about it but having a closely knitted support group consisting of people who really care about you can ease a lot of physical and emotional burden.

C4S: You’re still going through so much. What’s the latest regarding your case? 

Gillian: Yeah well, cancer really does suck. Despite major surgeries to get rid of the bad cells, they keep sticking around. The latest scans show that the cancer is still spreading around the spine, and there’s nothing much I can do since I’ve taken most of the strong chemotherapy drugs and radiation. I’m currently taking oral chemo to suppress and decrease the growth of the cancer, but my family and I are really hoping that my case is eligible for the Carbon-Ion Radiation Therapy in Japan. It’s known for treating various complex cancers including several types of sarcomas.

C4S: You’re an artist. Does art help you cope? 

Gillian: People would guess so, but not really. As an artist, people assume that art is a medium for me to cope. I do draw and make things in my free time. However, coping with cancer is more of a mental affair that I have to go through everyday, and I don’t intend to glamourise it. Simple entertainment like watching a series or a show usually distracts me from what’s on my mind. Everyone has their own way of coping with their own struggles.

C4S: Who inspires you? 

Gillian: I don’t really have just one person I look up to. I tend to change interest in people very fast. But the qualities in people that I find inspiring include being triumphant in suffering and braving through all odds to achieve their goals despite the limitations that set them apart.

C4S: Do you think you see life in a different perspective compared to most people? 

Gillian: Having gone through what others might have not certainly puts me in a different position, but I think everyone has their own unique pair of eyes. 

C4S: If you could give advice to other families battling sarcoma, what would it be? 

Gillian: Be as open as you can around each other because bottling in your pain and troubles won’t do anyone good. Being chained by your fears is not healthy either. Having cancer is a lifelong journey, and though we need to be careful and wary of the certain things that pose as a risk, my family and I try our best to work our way around it and just live our lives as we would want to.

A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO GILLIAN AND TRICIA FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN 

Imogen

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

Q: Have friends and family been crucial to helping your recovery? 

Imogen: Definitely. Not just the physical support but more so the mental support, having those people there who were always there just for you. Probably family the most. I have one best friend who’s been there the whole time and I think she’s been there always for me to just vent to and that kind of thing, but definitely my family the most.

Q: Who are your emotional crutches? 

Imogen: Definitely family again. Mum and dad for sure. Mum and I are very similar, but I think this journey I’ve been on has a lot to do with mum as well. She was always there at the hospital with me, and although we do fight a lot, mainly because we’re so similar, it’s made us so much closer as well. And dad obviously. I think this journey has helped my relationship with family in all ways, it made us all closer. I feel like we were stuck in a bit of a rut before I was diagnosed and then everyone just came through a little bit after that. Not just in health ways, like everyone reconsidered their own health, but it made us all a lot closer which is nice.

Q: Cancer is something that affects everyone these days. Have you seen first hand how sarcoma affects more than just the diagnosed? 

Imogen: The biggest way it was evident to me was when I had to tell my sisters that I had cancer. That was by far the most terrible day of my life having to do that. I think what really got me was how differently it affected people, even throughout the treatment. I think my youngest sister struggled a lot because mum was away from home. It’s not just the fact that I was going through cancer, but the fact that we had to move away from home. It definitely is not just isolated to the person going through it, but everyone and the community.

Q: What are you grateful for? 

Imogen: My journey has made me grateful for those people that are around me. Coming from a small area made me realise how great everyone is…family, friends. Being diagnosed with cancer makes you realise who’s there for you, but also who’s there just to get the “kicks out of it” kind of thing, which sounds bad. You definitely find out who your true friends are and your family becomes closer, and thats what I’m really grateful for.

Q: Who inspires you? 

Imogen: I think anyone that overcomes adversity. Not just the people who overcome cancer, but  kids that get diagnosed with cancer. They’re truly inspirational. But anyone who overcomes adversity and is doing these amazing things are inspiring. I remember when mum and I would pull up at the children’s hospital ready for treatment and we’d see people in much worse situations than us. Sure, you know this cancer may be potentially fatal, but then you’d pull up in a car next to a single mother getting both her kids out of the van, both her kids in wheelchairs, severely disabled.  It makes you realise that though your life isn’t great at the moment, you can still have a great life in the future. Whereas these kids, they’re not going to get better, ever. It inspired me to see that family keep going.

Q: What does the money raised and support mean to you? 

Imogen: Going through the children’s ward, you notice that most kids have leukaemia. You simply assume when you ask them “What kind of cancer do you have?” that it is because it’s so much more common than sarcoma. I was lucky myself to go through treatment with four boys who also had osteosarcoma. I was lucky to be there at a time when other people knew exactly what I was going through. Obviously we were going through similar things to those with leukaemia, but it’s always a little bit different. Through charities such as Crutch4Sarcoma, and through what Dominique is doing, we’re able to raise awareness for the smaller kinds of cancers that people don’t hear about.

It was funny… the other day I was walking down the road and this lady stopped me on the road asked me what I’d done to my leg. I tried to soften it the blow a little bit, so I said softly that I’d had 0steosarcoma, I didn’t want to scare her away. But I still had to explain myself and say “It’s a rare form of bone cancer, often found in kids” just to have people understand what we’ve been through. People are so aware of other childhood cancers. But just to be know a little bit about sarcoma would be nice.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Imogen: I have no idea at the moment. I’m studying science at the University of Melbourne, and I would really love to go into the health and medical area, but I’ve seen so much I have no idea what area I’d want to go in to in particular. I’d also really like to be involved in health promotion, through the media and that type of thing. But at the moment I’m not completely sure.

Q: Body image is such a big issue for young people, how have you overcome issues with your own body / scars / crutches? 

Imogen: I really struggled with my body image once I was better again. Before being diagnosed I was super sporty, had the fastest metabolism, and just really enjoyed sport. But then with the tumour in my leg and all the surgeries, I was told I’d never be able to run again. That’s what I found most devastating at the time. At 13 years old, running was my life. It was what I was good at. I truly couldn’t see myself getting through life without it. I think it connected with the whole body image issue because I kept thinking “How am I going to stay fit?”. I already had anxiety before I was diagnosed, and I think that just intensified it. Once I got better, I was 15 years old, and it was really quite common for girls to have those issues, too. Mum helped me a lot in dealing with it all.

There was also one instance, when we were getting my sister’s graduation photos taken that the photographer said to me, “ Do you want to change angles? It’s not your best.” I was so surprised, I never thought anyone would evre consider it to be an issue. I found it so odd. My scars have never come in to question for my own body image. I love them, I wouldn’t change them at all. They’re good icebreakers. But I still do, like a lot of girls, struggle with my body image, but it’s nothing to do with having had cancer. I mean, I have hair but I would easily go back to having no hair, it was like the best being bald. So much less maintenance!

Q: What is your definition of beauty?

Imogen: For me, beauty definitely comes from within. Anyone can be attractive from the outside, and I guess girls get caught up in what they think beauty is with all these models, but definitely I think beauty shines through you from the inside.

Q: What does self love mean to you? 

Imogen: I think it comes back into body image: it’s being okay with what you’ve been given. Accepting that if you’ve had cancer, then you’ve had it – and thats okay, that was meant to be part of your life. Just being okay with who you are, all the different parts of yourself, because they’re all there for a reason.

 

A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO PHOEBE, GEORGE, GRACE AND IMOGEN FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN 

Carolina

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

C4S: Tell us a bit about yourself and your story. 

Carolina: I was born in Santiago, Chile in April 1970 and grew up there. I was a competitive swimmer during my childhood and teenage years. I was always busy training and competing. Forty-seven years later… I’m living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have been married for 20 years, and have three healthy and happy kids ages 16, 15 and 10.

C4S: How old were you when you were diagnosed with sarcoma? Where about in the world were you at the time, and when did you realise something was wrong?

Carolina: I was diagnosed with sarcoma when I was 17, and still living in Chile. I began to have pain in my right leg around the knee, but it started during competition time, and I thought (and was told) and it was probably some muscle issue due to the extra exercise. When competition season had ended I decided to take some tennis lessons to learn how to play it. After my second lesson, I started having the pain again, and within one day I could barely walk because the pain was so strong. At that point I realized it was something more and went to the doctor. They first diagnosed me with osteomyelitis (bone infection), and had surgery to remove it. In the biopsy they realized it was osteosarcoma.

With the hope that maybe my leg wouldn’t have to be amputated, my parents took me to Miami, Florida for treatment. I started chemo treatment right away, and after a few tests, doctors recommended that still the safest option was to go with the amputation. I was about to turn 18 when they amputated my leg above the knee. That was followed by 21 hospital stays, between chemo treatments, and extra visits due to low blood counts and other infections from chemo side effects.

C4S: How did losing your leg impact you physically? Was it difficult for you to accept?

Carolina: Losing my leg was a big challenge initially as I was an active and successful athlete, and thought then my sports career was over. It was difficult to accept, and maybe times I asked myself “why me?”. But then I decided I also needed to move on and stay strong to get through the rest of the treatment and rehabilitation.

C4S: What is your best memory at hospital?

Carolina: I feel very lucky that my whole medical team was outstanding. The oncologist, the surgeon and the whole nursing staff were so caring and supportive. I had a nurse that was particularly special in keeping me positive and looking forward. He would make me special milk shakes to make sure I was getting enough nutrition.

C4s: What was the hardest part of the journey?

Carolina: There were a few challenges during this journey. Not feeling well, and with many ups and downs was a challenge as I’m an active independent person. The rehabilitation was very challenging at times, as learning to walk again and manage a prosthesis requires extra energy. I would say though that the biggest challenge came, as a female teenager, feeling if not having my leg would limit me as a woman. I asked myself, will I meet someone that will love me like this, will I have a family, will I be active again?

C4S: What did you want to be when you grew up, before the cancer, and did that change once you went through the treatment?

Carolina: I was a few weeks away from starting college in Chile when I moved to the US for treatment. I was ready to go into business. My studies were put on hold for that year. When I went back to Chile I decided I wanted to go into journalism, a career where I could have closer contact with people, and tell their stories. A year after being back in Chile, I moved back to the USA because I wanted to go back to swimming competitively, and disabled sports in Chile didn’t have much support at the time. I was very lucky to do my rehab in Miami with one of the country’s top physical therapist specialized in amputee rehab. He not only helped me to walk again, but encouraged me to go back to swimming and I did. I participated in a few US Nationals, and did very well, so was invited to join the US team for Barcelona, Spain Paralympics in 1992.

C4S: Tell us a bit about your work with prosthetics.

Carolina: Living in the US and working with my physical therapist got me interested in that field. I went on to get my Masters in Physical Therapy. I worked as an amputee rehab specialist for a few years before moving abroad with my family. I really enjoyed working with amputees as I felt I could easily connect with them and they could be more motivated seeing me as someone that had gone through the same experiences.

C4S:Have prosthetics evolved much since you had your first one?

Carolina: Yes, significantly. The various options of knees and feet based on your activity level and what you want to use it for has evolved tremendously. The unfortunate  part is that it that they’re still so expensive, that depending on location the accessibility to people varies greatly. I wish every amputee could have a good prosthesis to help them enjoy their life.

C4S: You seem to have recovered from the surgery and the cancer very quickly, given you were in the paralympics after the ordeal. Tell us more about your swimming history and your experience with the paralympics.

Carolina: Well, I already touched a little bit on my swimming history. As I mentioned, as an amputee, I went back to swimming in 1990 and participated in a couple of National Competitions in the US. And then joined the US team for Barcelona, where I won an individual bronze in the 800 meters freestyle and a gold in the 4×100 meters medley relay. It was an amazing experience.

 C4S: Were friends and family crucial for your recovery?

Carolina: Totally! The support of friends and family was the key to success. My mom was my strongest pillar throughout the whole process. She put up with a lot during those months, and I’m forever grateful for her unconditional love and strength.

C4S: Do people often ask what happened to you? What is the most memorable comment a stranger said in response to hearing about your story?

Carolina: Adults are always more hesitant to ask, where kids are great, they don’t care. Some kids think it’s very cool as it looks robotic (when I don’t have a cover on my prosthesis). Going through security at airports it’s always an adventure because I never know what I will have to do, just be scanned, or touched, or go to a private room to show them the prosthesis, asked to take it off, etc etc. But I think a funny one was one time traveling through India with some girlfriends (about 6 years ago). At a small airport I was asked to privately show the leg to a female agent, she looked at it, touched it, and then asked me if the other leg one was “original”. For sure it became was of the funny memories of our trip. 

C4S: Do you think you see life in a different perspective compared to most people?

Carolina: For sure, definitely I don’t sweat the small stuff. I think going through an experience like this makes you appreciate more how precious life is, so I don’t like to waste my precious time worrying about things I can’t control. I think that makes me more easy going and balanced.

C4S: If you could give advice to families battling sarcoma, what would it be?

Carolina: I think the most important thing is the support but to remember to let the patient still be him/herself. I didn’t like feeling dependent, and for most things I didn’t need to be. So  for the patient, be strong and stay positive because I really believe that positive attitude and good vibes helps healing. For family and friends, don’t be afraid to ask and offer help, but also respect the patients space and independence. As a patient, you still want to be yourself first, and then the cancer patient.

 

A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO CAROLINA AND PRAKASH DANIEL FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN 

Harold

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

 

C4S: Tell us your story.

Harold: I’m 20 this year, and I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma two years ago in 2015. It was around August when I began feeling numbness in my abdomen, fingers and feet. After two weeks of having these symptoms, I asked my parents to go see a doctor. We were recommended a neurosurgeon  by a friend of ours, and after an MRI scan, we were told that I had a tumour pressing on my C7 vertebra.

Two days later, I went for surgery to remove the tumour. It was 8cm long: 3 cm to the front and 5cm to the back. The surgeon had initially estimated the operation to last 8 hours, but because I lost so much blood during the surgery, he had to stop after removing the back of the tumour. He closed up and operated again two days later. They then realised that a screw they’d placed during the first surgery had been misaligned, so during the second operation they had to reopen the back and re-align it, as well as removing the front part of the tumour. The doctor estimated that would take another 8 hours. When the surgery was about to end, the surgeon told my parents that there was 0.01% of the tumour still stuck at the vertebral artery and that he needed to clamp it in order to remove the tumour. The second surgery ended up taking 16 hours. After the two surgeries, which added up to 24 hours under, I had to be hospitalised for three weeks. Because I was bedridden for the whole time, I then had to learn how to walk again. I’d lost 10kg of muscle within that time.

C4S: When did you realise something was wrong?

Harold: If we track back to January, about 7-8 months before I was diagnosed, I was having a lot of  muscle pain in my back. At first I thought it was because of water polo training…that it was just a sports injury. But I remember in April, after a big water polo competition, still having these aches and pains in my neck and shoulders. I thought to myself that I’d just rest for a few months and the pain would improve, but it didn’t. I went to a sports therapist, a physiotherapist, I got Chinese massages, and everyone said it was just a muscle tear. It’s only when I began to feel numbness in my hands that I told my parents we should see a doctor.

C4S: How did you take the news?

Harold: When I first got the news, I was a quite relieved to finally find out the root cause of the problem. At the same time, I was disappointed and shocked. I thought to myself  “How can this happen to me? I’m only 18 years old”. I had plans to join the armed forces and become a fighter pilot. I’d passed the medical tests and was all ready to join the forces and become a pilot. I also needed to complete my final high school exams in November, and so was worried as to how this incident would impact my immediate future and my life. At first I thought it’d be an 8 hour surgery and then it’d be done and I’d be back to normal. But then I found out I couldn’t do anymore contact sports ever, which meant no more water polo. It was really hard to take that in since I’d been playing water polo for about 6 years and I’d been a swimmer since I was 5 years old.

C4S: How often did you go into hospital?

Harold: I started my treatment in October 2015 and finished in June 2016. It lasted about 9 months, and I did 7 cycles of chemotherapy. Initially it was quite difficult because I was going to the hospital every week,  staying there for 3-4 days, and then the drugs would kick in and I’d have all these side effects: hair loss, nausea, headaches and restlessness. My taste buds also changed. Ketchup tasted really metallic to me. So at first it was difficult to adjust. I also had to do radiotherapy on top of chemotherapy. I had a total of 28 radiotherapy sessions, and then developed more side effects because of it. I had ulcers in my throat, so it was hard to swallow or eat.

C4S: What’s your favourite memory at hospital? 

Harold: It was around the end of my treatment. When people had asked me how I was planning on celebrating, I answered that all I wanted to do was go home, lie on my own bed, feel the relief and sleep. But then on my last day, my family and friends threw me a surprise party at hospital. They’d brought balloons and cake. I’m the type of person who loves surprises, so I was really happy to see the friends who had journeyed with me and my family members there, and to celebrate the end of this long, tiring journey with them.

C4S: What was the toughest part of your journey? 

Harold: One of the hardest times was actually towards the end of my treatment. A lot of people may wonder why I say this. You’d probably assume I’d be happy because my treatment was about to end. But if I were to give an analogy, it would like sitting for an exam when you’ve sat all the papers on the Friday and you just have one paper on the Monday. All your friends have already finished, and you just have Saturday and Sunday dreading the last paper. I knew I was close to the end but I still had to do the treatment. At that point, I was also administered a new drug which lowered my red blood and platelet count was extremely low, so I had to have a blood transfusion. There was still so much ahead of me despite being so close to the end.

C4S: Were your friends supportive?

Harold:  My school is very family orientated, in that if someone has an incident, we’ll all gather around to help that one person. When I was first diagnosed, the very same night that I was administered into hospital in August, my class mates came over and my school teachers came to visit me. Even after the surgery, they all came to visit. My friends were also all studying for their end of high school exams and to be honest I wasn’t expecting any of them to come in, as I wanted them to focus and do well. It really touched me when they went out of their way to see me. I felt very blessed to have a close group of friends who supported me.

C4S: How did it feel to reintegrate into school life?

Harold: I came back to school after not studying for about a year. My memories of all the subjects was super limited, so I couldn’t remember much. But a lot of my friends and teachers went out of their way to help me. They’d stay after school hours to help. There were also friends who said they respected and admired me. I got this a lot ever since the treatment started. I think it’s a very unique experience and it’s very rare for teenagers to go through cancer. But even when I was with friends, I wouldn’t let it affect me negatively. I tried to turn it into positive energy. I don’t try and get sympathy or pity. Instead I use it in a way to inspire others.

C4S: Did you ever feel the need to help other patients through your positivity?

Harold: Yes, I’d asked my doctors what I could do to help and they said that whenever new patients came in, that I could share with them my story, and tell them to always be positive. The kids who come in are usually between 12 and 16 years old, so I think it’d be even scarier for them to go through treatment. I would try to calm them and give them good advice: stay positive and know that everything will come to end. No matter how long the treatment is, from 6 months to 2 years, it will end.

C4S: Who helped you get through sarcoma?

Harold: There were times during treatment that I would break down in front of my parents and I think, if not for them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. They encouraged me, they went out of their way to help me. If I had cravings and really wanted to eat something, they would travel wherever to get it and bring it back to me. I’m really thankful to my parents for helping me and journeying with me. People say you might run the race by yourself, but the support is equally important.

C4S: Do you think sarcoma changed you as a person?

Harold: I think it actually helped me quite a bit to become more confident. I used to compare myself to other people. I used to doubt my identity, which is not a very good thing to do. But after the cancer happened, I thought to myself ” Will I be disadvantaged in any way?”, but after going through treatment and everything, I think it helped me to be more confident. Especially after all my friends told me they respected me. I didn’t ever think I could ever make such an impact on my friends. To know I could influence someone’s life and encourage and inspire them helped a lot with my confidence.

C4S: How do you feel about your scars? 

Harold: I’m not ashamed of them. In a way, they’re battle scars, and they say men with scars look cool (laughs). I can say I fought a tiger or something. So when people ask me what happened, I’m not afraid of sharing my story.

C4S: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Harold: I’d wanted to be a fighter pilot for a long time, mainly because of the adrenaline rush. Both my parents are in armed forces and they’d inspired me. But after the surgery, my doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to be a pilot anymore, as I’d no longer be able to do vigorous exercise. I was heart broken and lost. It took some time before I figured out what I wanted to do after hearing the news. I still like the military path, so I’m now thinking of going into the ministry of defence and perhaps do defence as a cadet officer or be in defence policy. I’m also looking into joining the airforce and going into research and technology. Instead of flying the plane, I could design it.

C4s: What advice would you give to people who are currently in treatment and who feel like giving up?

Harold: Honestly, I had moments where I also felt like giving up, when times were really tough. At one point of time, I was very confused and lost with what I wanted to do in the future, but I think talking to family and seeking their advice helped a lot. That’s when your family members will talk to you more, they’ll check up on you. If you keep it to yourself, and don’t share your worries with people, I feel like your family will feel responsible for the mental pain you’re in. But if you open up to them, it might help you as well as your family in dealing with your feelings and struggles.

A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO HAROLD AND CHARLES STAUFFER FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN 

Michelle

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

 

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?

Michelle: No!

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 

Emma

To see all the photos from the shoot, click here.

C4S: Can you explain what type of cancer you were diagnosed with?

Emma: I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in my left leg.

C4S: How did you find out you had sarcoma?

Emma: I started feeling a difference in my leg. It was hurting when I did sports and stuff like that. I then saw that it was swelling up so we went to the doctor to get an X-Ray and MRI. That’s when they told me I had osteosarcoma.
I first found I had cancer within a day, but then I had surgery to find out which cancer it was. That took about a week.

C4S: What was your initial reaction to finding out you had cancer?

Emma: I didn’t really know what it was at first, so I didn’t know how serious it was. It wasn’t really a big deal for me when I didn’t know just how serious it was. But then I found out what I had to go through and I was pretty shocked.

C4S: Were you scared, anxious, nervous?

Emma: I think all of those…(laughs)

C4S: Did it take time to adjust to this completely new situation?

Emma: It definitely did. I wasn’t at my house, and I wasn’t going to school so I didn’t have any of my friends around. That was pretty hard to get used to.

C4S: How long were you in hospital for?

Emma: I was living in Shanghai at the time but came to Singapore to get treatment for eight months. We rented a serviced apartment and every three weeks I’d go in to hospital for 4 days of chemotherapy.

C4S: Did you have a favourite doctor or nurse who looked after you?

Emma: Yeah, Nurse Nelly. She was really nice. She gave me all my shots, so I didn’t really like her after that (laughs) but she was really nice about it, and got me through it every time. She’d just tell me ‘Emma you have to do this and then it’ll be over’. She was blunt and just pushed me to do it.

C4S: Did you ever get visits?

Emma: A few of my friends from Shanghai did come and visit me. My school raised money for some of my friends to fly in. I knew they were coming and so it was really exciting.

C4S: Dominique mentioned that the support around her made her a stronger person, would you agree with a statement like that?

Emma: Yes, definitely. I wouldn’t have got through it as graciously without my family and friends. Before I had cancer i didn’t really know what was out there, and was kind of sheltered from everything going on. Cancer has definitely made me a stronger person.

C4S: What was your routine at hospital?

Emma: I would go in and they would put a needle in my port. Then everyday they’d give me a treatment of chemo, and it would make me sick. And I couldn’t eat anything. The treatment lasted 4 days.

C4S: What was the hardest part about the whole process from finding out you had cancer to where you are now?

Emma: The hardest part would probably be getting used to a prosthetic leg and having to relearn everything, like walking. And re learning how to move in a specific way that makes it easier for me.

C4S: When you found out you were going to lose your leg, how did you react?

Emma: I didn’t know that I was going to have to lose my leg. It was a big shock and I was really nervous. I was in shock for a couple of days before it really set in that I wasn’t going to have my leg after.

C4S: Did people treat you differently? 

Emma: At school, people would go easy on me in sports,  and they’d be careful around me. I’d rather people just treat me like everyone else. But once people get to know me they don’t even notice that my leg is any different.

C4S: Who helped you get through the ordeal?

Emma: Mostly my mum because she was there every time I went to the hospital. My whole family too , my Grandma and Grandpa, came out from Denmark to stay with me.

C4S: How does your leg impact you day to day?

Emma: Usually it doesn’t impact me as much as people would think, because I’ve had to learn to do things that other people can do and I can do most things now. But especially running, I have a hard time with that.

C4S: Do you have an idol? Someone who inspires you to keep pushing boundaries?

Emma: Well I’m a swimmer, so Michael Phelps.

C4S: What are your thoughts on Crutch4Sarcoma and the campaign?

Emma: I really love what Dominique’s doing, that she’s continuing to raise awareness for sarcoma even though she’s studying.

C4S: Do you think ‘the forgotten cancer’ is a good way to describe sarcoma?

Emma: I definitely do think it’s a good description. When people think of cancer, they think of brain cancer, of lung cancer. When I say ‘sarcoma’, they don’t know what it is so I have to explain.

C4S: You mentioned you’re a swimmer, do you have any dreams?

Emma: I swim five times a week, and that’s the minimum you have to swim for my swim team at least! I really want to strive towards being a Paralympic swimmer. I would love to be part of the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.

C4S: Do you have a favourite stroke?

Emma: I prefer backstroke. It’s more relaxing and I feel like I can do it for hundreds of meters and not get that tired.

C4S: Final question, we promise! Would you be interested in being an ambassador for sarcoma in the future?

Emma: I certainly would still want to be part of raising awareness for sarcoma in the future, even though I want to do so many other things. But I would still definitely want to be part of it.

 

A VERY BIG THANK YOU TO EMMA, RORY FLANAGAN AND JAMIE INGHAM FOR MAKING THIS PROJECT HAPPEN 

About Crutch 4 Sarcoma
Crutch 4 Sarcoma is a fresh, young and international movement aiming to raise awareness of sarcoma (the forgotten cancer). Join Dom and Lachy in the fight against Sarcoma, the forgotten cancer. TO DONATE: kicksarcoma.org
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