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'How I cope living with cancer'

By Matt Cole
Newsbeat reporter

Jade Goody's illness has led to a jump in the number of people getting screened for cancer, but there are still thousands who are already suffering. Around 2,100 13 to 24-year-olds are diagnosed with it each year. But how do you live with the disease? Jack Chester was 17 when he found out he had cancer.

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Jack Chester was told he had cancer when he was 17

You're young, you're sporty, your A-levels are going well and then a doctor tells you there's a massive tumour in your stomach cavity.

That's what happened to Jack Chester from Romford in Essex.

That was 13 months ago, on Valentine's Day 2008. The 19-year-old has been living with cancer ever since.

"For four months or so I'd had a lump on my back," he explained, "but because I was playing rugby, I just put it down to a rugby injury.

Jack Chester and his brother
Jack says his brother has been really supportive during treatment

"Around Christmas time 2007 I started becoming really ill and lethargic. I had no energy and was in intense pain all the time."

Jack also had trouble sleeping and eating and, after he lost three stone in weight, his mum took him to hospital.

A lengthy series of tests and scans revealed the cause of his symptoms.

"The MRI came back showing a tumour the size of a house brick packed inside my pelvis," Jack said.

"They showed me the pictures and you can never really prepare yourself for seeing something like that.

"You instantly think, 'No, that can't be right. There must be some kind of mistake.'

"But I accepted it and from the moment I left the hospital I said to myself, 'Right, OK, we're in a situation now, we know the problem, let's get it sorted, let's fix this.'"

No death sentence

"It's not an instant death sentence," he said. "I've just carried on my life as normally as I can."

Cancer facts
Every day six 13 to 24-year-olds in the UK are told they have cancer
Cancer is the number one cause of non-accidental death in teenagers and young adults in the UK
One in 312 males and one in 361 females will get cancer before they are 20
Nearly three-quarters of British teenagers and young adults who develop cancer now survive
Leukaemia, lymphomas and brain tumours are more predominant in 13-18-year-olds

The Essex teenager was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed.

Jack says that since his diagnosis he's always tried to remain positive.

Despite his brave outlook, Jack admits that the last 13 months haven't been free from fear.

"Sometimes it's just been absolutely terrifying for me," he said.

"When you think of the possibility that you could die from this, it just changes everything and being on the ward surrounded by that sort of environment where everyone's going through the same thing... It does scare you a lot.

"Recently one of my friends had died and he was diagnosed about the same time as me.

"When something like that happens it really hits home. You start wondering, 'If he didn't make it what about me?'

Sporting life

One of the most difficult things Jack has had to contend with has been the affect the cancer treatment's had on his ability to play sport.

Jack Chester
Jack loved playing rugby before his cancer was diagnosed

Before his diagnosis he was a keen sportsman. He'd been a youth academy player at Arsenal and in more recent years had been playing rugby regularly.

Being so fit meant he was doubly surprised to find he had cancer.

"It was so weird getting diagnosed with cancer," he said, "because everyone says if you keep active and keep yourself fit you can avoid things like this, but it just came straight out the blue.

Jack has a massive scar on the right hand side of his stomach. It's where they had to insert a balloon that could push his organs to one side allowing doctors a clear shot at the huge tumour.

They've left it inside him for now, which is another reason why he can't play on.

Tough treatment

Hair loss was just one feature of Jack's treatment. There were many worse as the powerful drugs kicked in.

He remembered: "The treatment originally was extremely tough. After the first chemo cycle I had, I was comatosed for two weeks.

Jack Chester and his mum
Jack says his mum (far right) has taken strength from him

"I didn't remember anything at all. My mum said I was just coming out with random, completely ridiculous delirious things. Talking about the moon and the stars and I don't remember any of it!"

But after his initial cycle, things got easier and as the year progressed he began to feel better: "I noticed a big change in my health. I was much more comfortable, I had no pain, I could sleep at night, my appetite was coming back and my overall health seemed to be improving.

"But that was a shame because every time you went in for chemotherapy treatment they made you sick as a dog again! That was quite a depressing thought, that you had the inevitable of going in to get ill to get better.

"But at the end of the day I started getting used to treatment and the side effects get less and less serious. Now I don't suffer from sickness at all with the chemo."

Keeping up

A particularly tough feature of having cancer when you're young is trying to keep up with your mates and school work.

Jack's already had to drop down a year at school to try to keep going with this A-levels.

Keeping touch with his friends is also harder but he says a special ward at his hospital has made that a little easier.

He said: "The Teenage Cancer Trust fund the ward that I am treated on. So they play a massive part.

"On the ward, we've got plasma TVs games consoles, pool tables, everything that you could possibly want to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

"That means on the ward it's not scary at all, it's so relaxed and laid back, there are no restrictions on visitors so your mates can stay all day and all night if you want to.

"They've got special rucksacks if you're having chemo, that you can put your chemo in and go for a walk or have a meal or something."

Future prognosis

Jack's been battling cancer for more than a year now, and when he spoke to Newsbeat he was in the middle of his second round of treatment after the first failed to kill off the disease.

Despite that, he's remaining positive. He explained: "I've never asked for a prognosis on what my chances are. Because I think, "What are you going to do with that information?"

"If they tell you you've got a 90% chance you're going to live, great. But if they say they other way, what good's that going to do you?

"It's like, 'Oh, so you're expecting me not to make it through,' and then you're going be like, 'Ah there's no point', and give up.

"You make your own fate really I've decided. If you stay positive and you want to make it through, then you will.



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