At 17, a bad cough prompted Jason to take himself to hospital. A blood test, x-ray and CT scan followed, with the eventual discovery of a tumour the size of a tennis ball in Jason’s right side.
Jason knew something was very wrong as he underwent a number of surgeries to remove the tumour, but he didn’t actually receive a diagnosis until four weeks later, when he was recovering from his third and most difficult surgery.
“I was extremely worried,” Jason says. “I was hoping it was nothing. After four weeks, I’d had enough of hospitals already. Then they told me that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 3 and that I was going to have to do over six months’ worth of treatment in hospital. That just killed me inside. It took a big piece of me.”
Jason says chemotherapy didn’t make him feel sick at first, but he did find it immediately challenging in other ways. “It was more playing games with my head,” he explains.
“I felt really down all the time. I wanted to go back to work desperately – I didn’t want to sit at home constantly thinking about it. But then when I did go back to work I thought ‘What if I do die? I’m spending my last few days at work. This is stupid.’”
Jason’s chemotherapy involved other challenges, with two painful blood clots in his right arm, weight gain from steroids and the insertion of a PICC line when his veins became difficult to access.
“The PICC line hurt a lot and made me feel really insecure,” Jason says. “I never wore t-shirts or anything. I’d wear a jumper so no one could see it.”
“When they told me after my fourth cycle of chemo that I was in remission but I still had to do two more cycles, I was excited that I was cancer-free, but the fact that I still had to do more chemo took a big piece of the happiness away,” Jason says. “I just couldn’t deal with it.”
After six cycles of chemotherapy and 11 rounds of radiation, Jason was finally finished with treatment. “When I finally finished chemo I was really excited, but my second-to-last chemo was on my 18th birthday and all my other friends were turning 18,” Jason says. “They were going out, having fun and I just had to sit there and not do anything, so that played with my head too.”
Now past the milestone of six months in remission, Jason says things are good, but admits cancer has changed his outlook on life. “Everything is so good now, but it still plays with your head,” he says. “Every little pain you get now freaks you out, thinking ‘Oh no it’s back’. When that happens I normally tell someone about it.”
family, friends and relationships
While Jason did talk to family and friends about his experiences, nothing was quite the same as speaking with someone else going through cancer. But being treated in an adult hospital, Jason struggled to find people his own age. “I was the youngest person to get treated at my hospital,” he explains. “I kept getting that ‘dad look’ – all the older people there would look at me and ask my mum and dad ‘How old is he? What’s wrong with him?’”
Eventually, through his local Youth Cancer Service, Jason found other young people in similar situations. “My goal was to try and connect with other people going through cancer,” he says. “I did the exercise program with YCS and I met a few girls who were going through brain tumours and they helped me a lot. We talked about everything.”
“My friends all tried so hard to be there for me but being young – they’re all 18 – sometimes they just didn’t know what to say. I would be lost too if I were them. They tried their best for me.”
Unfortunately, Jason also experienced negative reactions from his peer group. “I’m gay, and I heard some horrible things when I was going through cancer,” he explains.“Through Facebook, I was actually told the reason I got cancer is because God was trying to kill me. That’s the thing about social media I guess; nasty people say nasty things. But comments like that go through your head as well, on top of everything else.”
things Jason found helpful
Jason says his mum, dad and three older brothers were all very supportive and his parents were with him at every round of chemo. While there were times when it was difficult for his family to find the right words, they found other ways to be there for him. “With my brothers, it felt good to talk about other things,” Jason says. “You want to complain about the stupid things that you used to complain about, rather than thinking about cancer all the time.”
Jason kept on top of the emotional challenges he went through during treatment by doing the things he used to do as much as possible. “It’s good to do normal things like going to work, driving the car, going to the shops, instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself,” he says. “I had a lot of support from work – any time I needed a break they were always happy to let me have time off. That’s really important to have a job like that.”
support from Redkite
Jason received a diagnosis support pack, which he has kept to this day. “I got it and I remember seeing the playing cards, the cup – I used that for Milo. Then I saw the Coles food vouchers and I said ‘Oh Mum, look at this!’ She was really excited about that. And I still use the blanket on my bed.”
Redkite also supported Jason and his family with food vouchers from Coles, which are part of our financial assistance. “That helped my mum a lot because there’s a lot of foods that you’re meant to eat and not meant to eat,” Jason says.
Another way Redkite supported Jason was through our Education and Career Support program. “[Redkite team member] Carole was good to talk to,” says Jason. “I talked to her about everything.” At a point when Jason was particularly down, Carole suggested a way he could pursue a lifelong goal – to fly a plane.
“I did a trial flight at an airport,” Jason explains. “We were up in the air for an hour and I got to fly the plane for 10 minutes. I got to hold the wheel and everything! It was a little two-seater plane, and it was so windy it was just on the point of being okay to fly. It was the best experience of my life I reckon.”
Jason currently works in airline catering and his dream job is to become a flight attendant. Before he tackles that goal, he plans to use Redkite’s Dare to Dream scholarship to get his truck licence, allowing him to drive supplies out to the planes themselves.
“I’d encourage other young people to apply for Dare to Dream because you have so many plans ahead of you,” Jason says. “Once you get diagnosed it feels like all your savings go – you end up spending money on little things to keep you happy. All your plans for life go out the window too. You just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. With Dare to Dream, you’ve got a chance again.”
- August 2015
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