An Ormskirk student, who was diagnosed with cancer aged 20, is urging people not to forget about young people with the disease during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lakita Neille, who is currently studying to be a primary school teacher at Edge Hill University, was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma aged 20, and was treated at The Christie hospital in Manchester, with intensive support from specialist youth cancer support charity Teenage Cancer Trust.
In the run up to World Cancer Day on Thursday (4th Feb) she is asking for donations to the charity to help reduce the additional isolation and distress many are feeling.
Lakita, now 21, finished treatment a few months ahead of the first lockdown in March 2020 – she then had to shield and having her freedom taken away again so quickly after cancer hit her hard.
Lakita explains: “During chemotherapy you have to stay isolated because your immune system is so low, and all you look forward to is the time when that finishes, and you can have your freedom and your life back. But when we went into lockdown I had to shield, as I still wasn’t 100% well.
“It’s so scary to be told that because of your health or illness, catching coronavirus could kill you.
“I lost my independence again, couldn’t continue my studies, wasn’t able to see my boyfriend Ollie for five months and I couldn’t even go to the shop because I was so frightened of catching it. I felt totally trapped.”
Throughout her treatment and post-treatment Lakita has been supported by Teenage Cancer Trust’s nurses and its specialist Youth Support Coordinators, Lorraine and Steve, who work within the hospital.
Lorraine and Steve’s roles see them provide emotional and practical help and organise events that bring young people with cancer together to make friendships and support each other. When the pandemic hit, they quickly transferred all of their work online, so that they could continue to provide a vital lifeline to Lakita, and other young people in treatment or recovering from cancer’s aftermath.
Lakita comments: “The toll of cancer and treatment on my mental health was one of the hardest things to cope with, and the pandemic made that worse.
“I was really struggling, especially after when I finally stopped shielding and went back to Uni I caught coronavirus. I was having dark thoughts and called Lorraine and she arranged counselling for me, which helped a lot.
“And during this whole crisis they’ve organised loads of online events where I’ve made some amazing new friends. I’ve made friends for life through their events, and I speak to a few of them every single day. My friend Jack who and I are so close and call each other every night and play games, even though we’ve never met in real life.
“We’re also friends with a girl could Kathryn, probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, who relapsed during lockdown and is just about to go back into hospital for a stem cell transplant. It’s going to be hard for her because she won’t be able to have any visitors because of coronavirus. But before she goes in Jack and I are video calling her and we’re having a takeaway together and a chat, and we’ll stay in touch online while she’s in there too.”
Lakita has also worked with a group of girls in and out of treatment to set up their own support page on Instagram - @cancergram. On that page is an interview Lakita did with a young woman from Dublin, where they discuss the difference in cancer care for teenagers and young people between the UK and Ireland.
“When I told her about what Teenage Cancer Trust does and what it provides in the UK she couldn’t believe it,” says Lakita. “But 30 years ago before Teenage Cancer Trust was set up here young people like me would have been in the same position here.”
Lakita says that she still struggles at times and worries about the future, but knowing that Teenage Cancer Trust’s support is still there for her post-treatment makes a difference.
“Lorraine said to me that I can call her any time. Her saying that was so powerful as just knowing that she will always be there for me made me feel so much better and I feel so secure in my own mind now. I don’t know what I would do without her and Steve.”
Lakita and her boyfriend Ollie are so grateful to the Teenage Cancer Trust team for their support that they have been fundraising for the charity so it can help other young people in need.
Now Lakita is sharing her story for World Cancer Day on 4 February to encourage people to donate or support Teenage Cancer Trust, which has been hit hard financially by the pandemic, and due to cancelled fundraising events is facing a shortfall of around £6 million a year.
Lakita said: “Young people affected by cancer now have another thing to worry about with the pandemic. If possible, please help to make this time easier by donating to the Teenage Cancer Trust.”
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