How I kept calm to defy the odds and beat cancer

When Alex Samuels was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on erev Rosh Hashanah he was forced to postpone his final year at Leeds University. Friends quickly rallied to support him: UJS president Dan Grabiner travelled to London to decorate his hospital room, Leeds JSoc organised a 'saliva drive' encouraging students to join the bone marrow donors' register, and tutors offered advice and assistance. Alex, 22, describes how his campus support network helped him defeat the disease and take his first steps to recovery:

By Alex Samuels, April 5, 2012
Keep smiling: Alex (far right) with friends

Keep smiling: Alex (far right) with friends

I had been ill since returning home from my year abroad in Berlin and I had undergone countless blood tests, three skin biopsies, a fine needle biopsy, three operations, possible tuberculosis, a diagnosis of rare auto-immune disease Dermatomyositis, two MRI scans, a muscle specific MRI, three CT scans, an ultra-sound, three steroid infusions, hundreds of pills and creams and seen 10 consultants for innumerable appointments.

Despite all this I had returned to Leeds to complete the final year of my degree, but hadn't even unpacked when my parents called and told me to get the next train home - the doctor had news.

We drove straight to the hospital. My consultant called us in. There was a long, awkward silence - I think we all knew what was coming, but nothing could have prepared me for what she was going to say: "You have cancer."

The tears and emotions which followed were unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Nothing could have equipped me psychologically for those three words. All the negative connotations associated with cancer were dancing around my mind. The consultant kept talking, but nothing was really going in.

I thought because it was cancer that the prognosis would automatically be irresolvable. But I have defied the odds and not only now beaten cancer, but suffered minimally in the process.

My treatment consisted initially of six rounds of chemotherapy every two weeks. Apart from losing all my hair and feeling very fatigued, I hardly had any other side effects.

After the third round of chemo, I was told that due to the rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma I have, I would need to have a stem cell transplant once all the chemo was completed.

The stem cell transplant consisted of the removal of my stem cells which were then frozen. A week later, for six days, I underwent high dose chemotherapy every day and then I received the stem cells back. At this point I was admitted to hospital for 10 days until my immune system rebuilt itself.

As I was diagnosed only two days in to my fourth and final year, I naturally had to put my studies on hold as travelling to Leeds between treatments would have been too difficult and tiring. On a slightly more positive note, it has delayed me deciding what exactly I am going to do once I complete my degree.

The chemo didn't affect my social life too much. I was still able to go out and do things when I wanted but I was naturally more tired and bald than before. I also had to try to avoid heavily congested places full of people due to my immune system being weakened and compromised from all the treatment.

I found telling some of my friends that I had cancer particularly difficult, as I just didn't know how they were going to react. I felt it important to tell most of my close friends in person, rather than them hearing from someone else. They were naturally upset, but having a good, strong group of close friends has made the whole process easier and not so scary.

Having cancer put a massive strain on both me and my family. I found that the easiest way to get through it was to keep smiling and always think positively. I think that if I had let it get the better of me emotionally, it would have been much more difficult.

You just have to go along with it, take the doctor's advice, keep your friends and family close and not let cancer define who you are.

Read more about Alex's experiences here

Last updated: 1:58pm, April 5 2012