CancerCare Counts: ‘When they found it the doctors said it had spread everywhere’

Ruth Wawszczyk
Ruth Wawszczyk

At the age of 14, Ruth Wawszczyk was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer.

When the cause of her illness was discovered, she spent six weeks in hospital, and then six months on chemotherapy.

Ruth in hospital

Ruth in hospital

Like many others in the Lancaster area, Ruth and her family accessed services at CancerCare, which she said was as important for her parents as it was for her in moving forward with their lives.

Ruth, now aged 30 and living in London, attended St Bernadettes Primary School and Our Lady’s High School in Lancaster.

She currently works as a music therapist with children with special needs.

She said: “I was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell Lymphoma aged 14, after quite a long time getting steadily more ill.

“It took them a long time to find it. It started off as glandular fever, and I had lots of high temperatures, skin rashes, sickness. Lots of different things and pretty much everything you can imagine.

“It started with the glands under my arms, and at first I put it down to being out on the grass doing press ups.

“It wasn’t getting any though better and that’s when I went into hospital, and underwent a lot of tests.

“They were looking at ME, Lymes Disease, lots of things were being considered.

“When they found it the doctors said it was stage 4 and it had spread everywhere.

“It was in my lungs, in my skin. They said if I didn’t start chemo after the weekend I could have died.”

Ruth said one of the hardest things to be told was she might never be able to play the flute again.

“I had six months of chemo,” she said.

“It was a harsh treatment, with constant drips. It also had side effects so I felt really bad. I used to get really scared because it affected my heart. My blood pressure would go up. Whilst in hospital I wanted to keep up with my school work but I was never well enough to do anything.”

Ruth said that she had access to a counsellor, but remembers not really wanting to speak to them.

She said: “It’s a massive thing to happen but a lot of teenagers find it really hard to talk if they’re anything like me.

“I think about what I do with the music therapy and think that would be a really good way of supporting young people with illnesses like that.

“It would be interesting to see how this would work for teenagers with cancer.”

She praised the staff and environment at CancerCare.

“My mum went to counselling for quite a few years and my dad did some art therapy at CancerCare,” she said.

“For him it was the best way of expressing himself.

“It helped him because he did so much painting after that. I would go to CancerCare and do aromatherapy with Linda. I used to enjoy that a lot.

“I think parents with children on those cancer wards really do need someone to talk to, sometimes more than the cancer sufferer themselves.

“I really applaud CancerCare. It’s such a nice place, and has such a peaceful vibe to it.

“It’s often about the emotional side of things, and CancerCare is somewhere that people understand what you’re going through and what you’ve been through.”