Cancer In Young Adults ... Through Parents’ Eyes

Narratives & Stories

Paul H's story

Paul was a university student when he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma and 23 when he died a week after hearing that he had obtained his Law degree. The following account is written by his mother, Sandra.

“It is now 16 months since my son Paul died, aged 23 years.

Our nightmare began when Paul started his university studies at Nottingham when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Skin Cancer we had rarely heard of! Paul didn’t particularly like the `sun’ and never sunbathed, so how did he get it we asked!

He continued his studies at Nottingham University having regular checks for 6 months until we received the devastating news that the cancer had spread into his lungs. Our whole lives were turned upside down and this was the start of a very long painful treatment process.

Paul’s case was transferred to the Christie Hospital in Manchester where he would be treated on a unit specialising in drug trials. We visited regularly for 4 years having trial after trial, non which were successful and received set back after set back. Looking back now I don’t think we ever had any positive news at any time from the treatment. The specialists did all they could to keep the cancer from progressing but we knew deep down that there was no cure long term. But we never ever gave up, always trying to look on the positive side of things, hoping that one day a cure could be found for Paul.

One thing that stood out in our minds was that we never saw anyone of Paul’s age or in fact anyone under the age of 40. It used to become a joke when we walked round the Christies to see if we could spot anyone of Paul’s own age – we knew there would be somewhere – but where were they? Paul once said to me that the only person who could really understand how he felt would be someone his own age. He never got that opportunity. The support agencies said they could refer him to `self help’ groups but Paul wouldn’t have wanted that. The worst thing he would have wanted was to sit around talking about cancer to strangers. He wanted to be treated as normal as possible. He wanted to be amongst youngsters but in a more general setting.

We were totally under the care of the Consultants. On more than one occasions I felt lost as a parent. I understood what they were saying to us when discussing the different treatment options, but you are expected to take in so much of their knowledge and `terminology’ and then try to decide what is best for your child. This was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make.

Paul’s health stabilised for 2 years with ongoing trials, chemo, injections etc. He was able to continue with his studies, despite all the side affects, and transferred his Law Course to UCLAN. This was a lot nearer home. He was able to do most of his work from home, which took his mind off the cancer. He was determined to get his degree come what. The tutors were excellent and did everything they could to help him.

On the one or two occasions Paul had to have an emergency blood transfusion he was admitted to the Young Oncology Unit and at last we saw people his own age. Specialist nurses were on hand who were trained to understand his needs. They knew his name after one visit and made him feel part of their world. I can’t tell you how happy we were that finally there was this place where he could go and be understood and his needs would be met. They were fantastic!

Unfortunately, this came too late and Paul’s cancer spread into his bowel and then latterly metastases in the brain. We were then left with little options but palliative care.

Paul died at the age of 23. A week before he died he was told that he had achieved his goal with a 2.2 degree in law.

I feel that time has carried me through these dark days. I ache for his loss and wish for one more hug. I know that I have to learn to live without him but I miss him so very much”.