Lara’s story – championing Teenage Cancer Trust
20 years ago I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was seven years old. At this age, you do not expect to understand exactly what is happening to you although I do have a lot of memories of this time. I was treated for two years with chemotherapy and finished my treatment at the age of nine. My once fine, fair hair fell out twice and grew back dark and curly. I refer to my curls as my ‘chemo curls.’ I had follow-up appointments until I was 16 where I was given the opportunity to be fully discharged.
It was when I was in my teenage years that I began to question what had happened to me. It was a strange experience reflecting back on a time of ‘child’ memories and I relied on my family, friends and specialists to fill the gaps in my understanding. Around the time I was discharged, a member of the Teenage Cancer Trust team came to speak at my local school about the charity. He also told us that the first ever Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Wales was about to be built. I had never heard of this charity before and had never considered that cancer could affect teenagers and young adults. I was a bit stunned by this and felt compelled to help. If I had never thought about teenagers and young adults getting cancer, and I had had it myself, how can others who have no experience of cancer be expected to consider it? I approached the Teenage Cancer Trust, explaining that while I was a child cancer survivor, I wanted to offer my support to the charity as it had struck a chord with me. I began fundraising through my church initially with my first event raising around £300.
Since then I have individually contributed to raising over £95,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust. I have been fortunate enough to be a finalist in the Citizenship Category of the inaugural St David’s Awards in 2014. I was also an Olympic torchbearer, an experience I will never forget. One year ago I received a Point of Light Award. I was completely shocked by this nomination, as I understand it was all hush hush until a few days before when I actually found out. It is a great honour to receive recognition like this but it is not why I do what I do. I just do it. I want to help so I get on and do something to help. Receiving a Point of Light has encouraged me to keep going with my fundraising and awareness raising efforts and definitely gave me more confidence in what I was doing.
In 2011 I set up a fundraising group in my local area. I met a number of people along my travels as a fundraiser and have found that people want to help but aren’t always sure what to do or where to start. We called ourselves Teen Spirit in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust because we wanted to incorporate the teenage spirit within what we do. We had our official launch as a group in 2012 and won a Wales Volunteer of Year Award in 2013 in the Group Category. Our membership has changed over time but we have always had a spread of age ranges and backgrounds with our volunteers. Some have personal experience of cancer, others don’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter, the main thing is that we are coming together with the common goal – to raise money AND awareness of cancer in teenagers and the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Our group has gone from strength to strength and our recent total amount as a group stands at just over £103,000.
We all need to raise awareness
While the money we raise is important, it is equally imperative that we raise awareness. Awareness that cancer does affect teenagers and young adults at one of the most challenging time of their lives and that it is important that they are diagnosed early. I personally feel that gone are the days when cancer was seen as a taboo subject and something that isn’t talked about. It MUST be discussed, so that young people feel confident to discuss worrying symptoms and hopefully get diagnosed sooner and consequently treated sooner.
As the saying goes, “no man (or woman for that matter!) is an island”. I would not be where I am without the support of the people around me. I feel that recognition of my efforts should be shared with my fundraising committee, family, friends and supporters and I am very grateful to them all.
The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.Volunteer now