Four-time cancer survivor shares her story for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
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After undergoing emergency surgery, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was given the all-clear at two-and-a-half years old.
However, with children’s cancer survivors at risk of developing cancers later in life, she was diagnosed with a second cancer - squamous cell carcinoma - in 2016 when she was 18, which required laser excision surgery, a neck dissection, and 33 rounds of radiotherapy.
Despite being successfully treated, in spring 2020 she received another diagnosis of a separate case of squamous cell carcinoma and underwent the same surgery and a neck dissection on the opposite side, though this time, no treatment was needed.
Her most recent cancer diagnosis came in 2022, when surveillance scans picked up a thyroid mutation, resulting in the removal of her thyroid and another neck dissection.
Though now in remission for all four cancers, she suffers from several long-term side effects as a result of the treatment she received as a child.
Known as ‘late effects’, these have had - and continue to have - a profound impact on her life.
Kimberley has partnered with Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) to highlight the long-term impact of children’s cancer and how survivors’ quality of life is affected by their disease and its treatment.
Just some of the many ongoing health problems Kimberley faces include kidney, heart and ovarian failure, the latter of which led to her being given the news she was infertile last year.
She said: “The main thing I suffer from is kidney failure. This condition impacts my energy levels, leaves me with extreme fatigue and affects my breathing, and I’m susceptible to water infections as well.
“I also have ovarian failure and I’m infertile, which was only really properly diagnosed last year.
“Because of the ovarian failure, I haven’t had puberty naturally. I’ve never had monthly periods and had to start hormone replacement therapy in my early teens.
“I was injected with growth hormones every night for eight years, to basically do everything that my body should have been doing but couldn’t because of the damage the treatment had done.
“When I was told I was infertile that had quite an emotional impact. I was always aware I couldn’t have carried a baby, but the full issue of fertility was never properly addressed.”
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Kimberley hopes that by raising awareness of the long-term impact of children’s cancer, people will be more understanding of the issues faced by survivors.
She said: “I’ve always raised awareness in Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and it’s the perfect month and opportunity to make people aware of late effects, which is incredibly important to me.
“I want to share things others wouldn’t know unless experienced in some way personally and help them understand what cancer journeys are like. It’s an important discussion to be had and I feel it does need to be understood more, particularly as it’s such a broad and complex thing.
“Sharing lived experiences can have a powerful effect and that’s why I’m working with CCLG to get the message across and help spread awareness further.”
CCLG funds pioneering research into finding kinder, more effective treatments that will result in less long-term side effects for patients, as well as studies developing support for them after treatment.
Kimberley said: “You’ve got to keep moving forward and putting the patients at the forefront and meeting their needs, and finding out what it is that needs to be done to support them going forward, during treatment, after treatment, with late effects. Research is one of the big ways of doing that.”
Ashley Ball-Gamble, CCLG Chief Executive, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to Kimberley for sharing her inspiring story and helping raise awareness of some of the challenges childhood cancer patients face after treatment.
“Through our pioneering research, we’re working hard to change the future for children with cancer, both during and after treatment.”
Reflecting on what has helped her during her journey, Kimberley shared these words of advice to others: “I’d advise communicating with whoever you feel is your support network, whether that’s friends, family, or professionals, because I think that really makes a difference.
“It’s also so important to make sure you ask questions of your medical team as well and let them know what you’re going through.
“Each person is different, but I think it’s also important to reach out to other young people who have experienced similar circumstances or are living with late effects as we can understand each other’s worries and daily lifestyles for what they are.
“We don’t have to over-explain ourselves and it can feel refreshing to be able to talk to someone who understands exactly what you’re saying or experiencing. This makes for a very different, and comforting, kind of support circle.”