Ruth was diagnosed in 1992 at the age of 15.
At the age of 15 I began to get terrible pains in my leg. The pain was intermittent but when it did come it was excruciating and there was nothing, I could do to relieve it. This pain came and went sometimes lasting weeks at a time.
At the base of my spine, it felt like there was a massive toothache, a deep consistent stabbing pain. A duller tighter pain with a strange numbness ran down my left buttock across the back of my thigh, snaking around the front of my knee to the back of my shin, over my heel and finishing at my little toe. The muscles in my leg had begun to wither slightly and I could only walk if my left foot was turned inward. Nothing relieved it – not the way I lay, hot water bottles, I would get brief distraction by rubbing my leg, but it felt strange to the touch due to the numbness.
After visiting my GP, I began to be treated for a slipped disc and then for rheumatism as X-rays suggested my hip joint was inflamed. But I noticed things were getting worse and the rheumatism clinic was not helping! I wasn’t being picked for the netball team as I kept falling over and at night it was difficult to sleep and get comfortable.
Everything then happened very quickly. On the last day of school before the Christmas holidays I was well, but by Christmas Day the pain had taken over. I could no longer eat or go to the toilet because of it. I was taken into A&E on Christmas Day and stayed in hospital for a week, where I was diagnosed with a slipped disc and prescribed bed rest. I mentioned to the doctor that I had a lump on my back, and it was from this point everything changed. I was allowed off bed rest, got better pain killers and saw members of my family rushing in and out of the hospital with worried looks on their faces. It was clear my family knew that it was something serious.
I was transferred from my local hospital to a specialist orthopaedic hospital in North London where I had scans and biopsies. I was told by the doctor that I had Ewing’s Sarcoma in my sacroiliac joint.
After being at home for a week, my family, I and a huge ‘Keep Smiling Ruth’ poster made by my friends, went to the adolescent unit at Middlesex Hospital.
My multi-disciplinary team included Professor Suhami and Doctor Whelan. It gave me strength and hope when Professor Suhami turned to me and said I was going to be OK. I completely believed him.
My tumour could not be removed so I had to have a 52-week course of treatment. With every third week I would have to have three days of chemotherapy. So, for one week out of every three I was wiped out. I carried on going to school when I could and with help from a tutor, I managed to carry on taking four GCSE’s. Typically, I lost all my hair which was not a good look for a 15-year-old girl for a whole year! But I made do with wigs and make up.
I struggled one third of the way through my treatment when my radiotherapy began. The sacroiliac joint is such a sensitive area that it made my insides go hay wire and I had very uncomfortable burns. The whole year was hard and at points I had to really fight myself to actually go into hospital.
But what got me through was the constant love and care I received from everyone around me.
I still saw my friends and my family took turns visiting me in hospital, so someone was there with me each day. My sister lived nearby and would come and collect me once the last drop of my chemo had gone and take me home.
All in all, the treatment went well. My white cell blood count was often low although I only picked up one infection in the whole year. My red cell count was often low too so I would have to stay at my local hospital for blood transfusions.
My philosophy was to keep my life as normal as possible. I think I was able to get myself well because of a combination of three things – the excellent specialist care I received in hospital, my own determination to get better and the love and support of friends and family.
I never felt resentful and thought “why has this happened to me?”
Since the all clear a year later, I have been well ever since (18 years to date). That is not to say I have remained unaffected by what I have been through. I think about having cancer a lot. The good and the bad bits.
But I know that at the age of 15 I achieved the greatest thing I will ever achieve in my lifetime – getting over cancer.