A student who thought she’d caught the dreaded ‘fresher’s flu’ shortly after starting uni was devastated to discover it was cancer.
Tegan Clarke, now 22, was just 18 when she started feeling unwell after starting her degree at London Metropolitan University in September 2018.
After moving down to the big smoke from Leeds, she partied during her first few weeks at uni just like any other student.
But after burning the candle at both ends, Tegan began to feel exhausted.
She said: “I was tired all the time, so I put it down to exhaustion from moving to uni and leaving home. I wasn't eating proper home cooked meals and I just assumed I was a bit under the weather ."
Recalling her first trip to the doctor, Tegan said they also thought she was just adjusting to being away from home comforts.
PA Real Life)
PA Real Life)
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She said: “At first, like me, they just thought it was ‘freshers’ flu,’ which is a term given to these kind of symptoms in new students, but with further tests, they showed I had acid reflux or heartburn .”
But after revisiting the doctor several times, a visit in November 2018 revealed Tegan had a shockingly high heart rate.
"He said he couldn't really send me home and advised me to go to A&E. Once there I had an ECG, to check my heart rhythm and electrical activity and blood tests done,” Tegan said.
After an anxious wait alone for the results, she received some devastating news.
“I was on my own when they told me I had a form of blood cancer and that I would need a biopsy to determine exactly what type I had.
“It was a completely devastating diagnosis. I burst into tears.”
While her mind raced, Tegan recalled feeling like she’d been given a “death sentence.”
"I have had a lot of family members die from cancer, so I was really scared," she said.
After calling her sisters to tell them the terrifying news, they rallied the family to hop on a train down to London from Leeds.
Meanwhile, a biopsy confirmed Tegan had non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a blood cancer that develops in the lymphatic system in the body.
The student was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital where her family came to visit.
PA Real Life)
PA Real Life)
She said: "My family came down from Leeds to visit me in hospital, but I felt very isolated being so far away from home, so the doctors agreed to transfer me by ambulance to St James's University Hospital in Leeds.
"Once there I went onto a Teenage Cancer Trust ward, where the other patients there were all 18 to 24 years old. It was really nice to be surrounded by other young people who were going through a similar experience.
"The trust really supported me while I was there. I was in hospital for a week and I made a lot of friends with the other patients."
A week after receiving her diagnosis Tegan started six rounds of chemotherapy. Once she’d finished chemo in March 2019, she had three weeks of radiotherapy.
Having dropped out of university, Tegan had a long wait for the results of her scan to find out if treatment had worked.
Rather than sitting around, she spent the summer of 2019 fulfilling her bucket list – including trips to Disneyland Paris and Amsterdam.
She also spent a week in Corfu, Greece, with her family and made sure she accepted invites to every party she could.
Finally in September 2019, Tegan was given the all-clear.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had tried not to get my hopes up so this felt like a dream come true,” she recalled.
“I'd been so focused on the present, but this outcome meant that I could now look to the future.”
After missing out on her studies for so long, Tegan went to an open day at Leeds Beckett University, and was accepted onto an accounting and finance course days before the new term began.
Due to graduate this year, the student is grateful for her health and relieved to be living cancer-free.
She said: "I feel like I've been given this new lease of life, a new chance to achieve my goals and enjoy my life.”
However she had a warning for young people who suspect something might be wrong with their bodies – as research from the Teenage Cancer Trust shows awareness of the main signs of cancer in young people is “shockingly low.”
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Tegan said: “I would say to anyone who is concerned about their health to keep returning to their doctors until answers are given.
“Cancer in young people often isn't talked about and I never thought I could be diagnosed with cancer so young.
“Awareness is really important – it saved my life.”
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