Patient Stories - Teagan

It isn’t easy at 17 being told you have just four to eight weeks to live. But that’s been my journey. I’m Teagan by the way, that’s me on the right and that’s how I want to be remembered.

I’m one of four siblings (two of each) and we’re all close: similar in many ways, yet there are a lot of personalities and high energy for Mum and Dad to manage, which secretly I think is just the way they like it.

I’ve grown up doing everything sporty! I was always doing something at fast pace. In the school office, I had my own box of plasters for patching me up after running bends at speed and jumps that didn’t quite go to plan. I have the war wounds to prove it, and I’m proud of them too!

We’re a tight-knit family, supporting each other, and competitive to boot, with a passion for absolutely anything sport, particularly rugby and athletics. It was while training with Biggleswade Athletic Club that I narrowed my talents down to high and long jump. At 15, I found the triple jump and proudly represented Biggleswade Athletic club at the Nationals.

Like the rest of the world in March 2020, schools closed and so did the sports clubs. But I was okay, as for the first time in my life I felt tired. But no travelling to school allowed me some extra sleep, and I thought no more of it. Once restrictions were eased, I returned to athletics with a real zest. My hard work was paying off and I was jumping further than ever – I was quietly confident I would qualify for the Nationals again.

And then in August, my tiredness returned.

I would sleep in more but feel more tired and less able at training. This is when alarm bells began to ring for Mum and Dad. Used to me being so high in energy and active, seeing me slow down didn’t feel right to them. And I started to feel a weakness in my back, and lumps began to appear in my pelvis.

A hospital referral and some tests didn’t throw up any immediate answers. But as the weeks went on, I became increasingly tired, and the lumps were quickly doubling in size. After a particularly uncomfortable night, an ultrasound was arranged for me. And on seeing the results, I was booked in for an MRI. Walking back to the car with my Mum, the MRI team called asking me back in for an additional scan. That was when I met my oncologist for the first time.
Now at 15, I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. I was young. I was healthy but there it was laid out in front of me – I had cancer.

My type of cancer is called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Only 60 or so children are diagnosed each year. (I knew I was unique, but this!) The doctors were gently honest, kind and positive.

I knew I had a long road ahead of me but armed with a positive and practical mindset, I started three weekly cycles of intensive chemotherapy, each accompanied with a four day stay in hospital. It was aggressive, and there were many times I felt terrible. Early scans showed the cancer was responding (although not in my bones) but, after a change of drugs, a couple of scans later showed I was cancer free.

I then embarked on a six-week course of radiotherapy in an attempt to remove every last cancer cell. Being very intense and taking all my strength, this was by far the most difficult part. But, in May, with the cancer still not visible, I started the ‘Teagan maintenance plan’. And by June, I was easing myself back into gentle training, which was just the most incredible feeling. I was back out with friends and family, and back to being my old self again.

By the summer, I was also back in competition. It was during a long jump that I ‘lost myself’ mid-air and tumbled into the sandpit, which in all my years of jumping I had never done. But something else wasn’t right; I started to get a tingling sensation in my arms and legs, and my balance was off.

After meeting with my oncologist, an MRI scan showed a tumour on my brain. I was told the devastating news – my condition was incurable. I had whole brain radiotherapy in an attempt to slow down the cancer, but the next scan showed cancer growing in other parts of my body. I then had palliative chemotherapy to stop the spread of the cancer in an effort to provide me with as much quality time as possible.

The most difficult part throughout has been the cycle of hope – hope given and hope taken away. In April, I understood there would be no more treatments, no more hospital stays… There was nothing more that could be done for me. I know everyone must face death at some point; it’s just I’m going to experience it sooner than I expected. And I still have so much living to do.

So, I created a bucket list: trying on wedding dresses, making my first Holy Communion, a visit to Ireland to create memories with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, and a tattoo – a balloon – from my favourite story as a child growing up, ‘The Silver Balloon’, and my favourite go to doodle while at school. The story tells of a girl with her silver balloon that floats up into the sky, goes through a washing machine and returns all clean and shiny!
I like to think this will be my spirit when I pass.

And, of course, there’s Keech.

When the nurses first came to visit me, they asked what I needed, and took the time to listen to me. They saw me as someone rather than somebody. They helped support me and my family, and made the house more comfortable so I have what I need to stay at home.

I see the same nurses each time, Jo and Beth, who are both just brilliant and nothing is too much trouble for them. They’re always at the end of the phone if I’m ever worried about anything, and have helped me to prepare for what the future brings and relieve some of my (and my family’s) worries.

Keech has been here for me and my family and made all the difference.

I didn’t choose cancer; cancer chose me. But I did choose Keech.

Teagan died on 6th November 2022 at home with her family.

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