A 26-year-old is hoping her story will raise awareness of the long-term impact of cancer on young people. 

Studies suggest that people who have experienced cancer when they’re young are more likely to develop mental health conditions in later life, and that it can impact young people’s studies, careers, personal relationships, and their ability to live independently.  

April is Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Awareness Month and, in a bid, to help others, Nimra, is working with the charity Teenage Cancer Trust to launch new information and advice for young people on its website about rebuilding their lives after cancer.   

In August 2017, when Nimra fainted on a trip to Pakistan to visit family and her uncle spotted a lump on her neck.   On her return to the UK her GP did some tests and found there was nothing of major concern.

That December she went on a family holiday to Morrocco where she was taken unwell. 

Nimra said: “All was well until our flight back home where I fainted again at the airport in Morocco. I could feel myself going - vision fading, with my body going limp and heavy - just like the first time. After fainting for the second time alarm bells were ringing for me and my family.” 

Back in the UK Nimra and her father went to the local hospital for help. 

Nimra said: “I met with an Ear, Neck and Throat consultant to see what the lump was. I walked into the appointment thinking that it was nothing to be worried about. When the doctor checked my neck, he didn’t say anything about my health or cancer, but I could see he looked concerned.

“After doing a blood test and a biopsy, I waited a week for the results. On 31st January 2018, on my follow-up appointment, I could tell it was bad news just from the look on the doctor’s face.

"He sat me down and told me I had thyroid cancer. I didn’t process it at first, but I remember my dad looking really stressed. 

"The whole ride home was in silence because we were both trying to process how we were going to tell the news to my mum and my siblings.”

Nimra had urgent surgery to remove the tumour, which was found to be the size of a ping pong ball.  

She tried to keep life as normal as possible as she underwent surgery and radioiodine ablation treatment, and then tried to put the experience behind her and move on. 

But she was suffering from intense anxiety, constantly worrying that she would once again faint in public, which left her fearful of leaving the house alone and had a huge impact on her life.  

Nimra said: “Travelling to and from university became very difficult due to my anxiety. I would travel by taxi and friends would meet me when I arrived.

"I did not want to go anywhere on my own, so I would take a family member with me. I stopped going out of the house alone for anything other than essential trips. Anxiety got so scary for me that I did not leave my house for over six months.

“I tried therapy for the first time to help with my anxiety, but I didn’t find it helpful, I wasn’t ready.  I was very much of the mind that I wanted to put everything behind me and forget about it too, so that is what I did, I got on with life as best I could.”

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But when the pandemic happened Nimra had more time to think and realised that two years after treatment, she still needed help.   

She said: “I realised I wanted to live my life like how I did before cancer – to go to concerts and be in crowds or to go places on my own without getting so anxious. 

“In 2021, out of the blue my nurse called me and asked how I was doing. I told her the truth and she put me in touch with Kate, a clinical psychologist from The Royal Marden’s Maggie’s Centre. It was a pivotal moment. 

Kate taught me how to be at ease with my anxious thoughts through cognitive behaviour therapy and how to ground myself when thoughts were snowballing. The two months of online sessions that I had with Kate completely changed my life.”

Nimra also had support from a Teenage Cancer Trust Clinical Nurse Specialist who amongst other things referred Nimra, a keen runner, to another charity called Trekstock who helped her achieve her goal of regaining her fitness. 

As well as encouraging people who might be struggling to visit Teenage Cancer Trust’s website for information and support, alongside other young people affected by cancer across the UK, Nimra is also sharing her personal tips on how to cope when treatment ends.    

She said: “Life after cancer is tough, and at times harder than the treatment itself, but by reaching out and seeking help it will aid the process and make it easier. 

“I am glad I reached out and asked for help – I now truly feel like myself after such a long time.

“Everyone’s path to recovery is different, and sometimes processing it will take place much later on in your journey, like it did for me. Just keep going because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you cannot see it now, keep going until you do. “And most importantly remember that even if you are only making a little progress, it is still progress. 

“I was so keen to move on after cancer – I wanted to forget that it had happened to me.  I struggled along feeling incredibly anxious for so long, and not being able to live the life I wanted to. Reaching out for help and undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy transformed my life. 

“Do not be sad if you try therapy and it does not work instantly. The first time I had therapy it did not work. The approach was not right, and the therapist was not right for me – try different types of therapies and therapists until you find one you are comfortable!”

Kate Collins, Chief Executive, Teenage Cancer Trust, said:  “Reaching the end of treatment is a major milestone for any young person with cancer. But moving forward from cancer can be equally challenging – the physical, psychological and emotional impacts can be felt long afterwards and may even hit hardest after treatment is over.

“That is why we’re launching new information and advice to support teenagers and young adults with the challenges of rebuilding their lives after cancer.  And why we’re also asking young people recovering from cancer to share their experiences of life after treatment, to help send out the message to any young people struggling in the aftermath of cancer that they are not alone.”