December marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month which runs throughout the month, every year. Alexandra Owens was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was just five years old. Now a finalist in the Miss Galaxy England Pageant she talks openly about the impact of childhood cancer.
“In 1998, at the age of five, I was diagnosed with full acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). At the time I was too young to understand what this meant and had no concept of what the treatment for this condition would mean for me and my family.
The treatment for the disease was to last two years and would entail for me having a Hickman Line sewn into my chest for drug administration, several periods of hospitalisation for chemotherapy treatment, continual sickness immediately after chemotherapy, the loss of hair, isolation from other children when my immune system was destroyed by the chemotherapy, and having to continually take steroids to build up my strength and appetite. I also became a point of interest for grownups and other children.
All in all the medication side of the fight against the cancer was intense and tiring both for me and my parents. Being so young I did not realise how much strain my illness would put on my parents and my family mentally, apart from the constant worry if the disease had gone and whether I was going to die, they would sleep in the hospital ward with me and daily administer drugs when I was at home. The other family members all wanted to help but did not know what too.
The experience of having the disease, and more particularly, the experience of having the early part of your life disrupted so much does affect your views and thinking as you get older. Looking back on the period I fully recognise how dedicated and committed the nurses, doctors and consultants in Alder Hey are and it really makes me appreciate people. The experience of having made friends with other children in the cancer ward and the realisation that some of them did not survive the disease made me realise how lucky I am and to appreciate life more.
Although I do not tell anybody, I still worry when I feel tired or sick that the cancer might of returned. I worry when I go for my yearly blood test because they will never tell me that I am fully cured. I worry that too much sun could give me skin cancer, I have a scar on my chest from the Hickman line which serves as a reminder of my experience fighting the disease. If my family and I learnt one thing from my illness, it was that you have to be positive, you have to believe you will win the battle and it is in this where I believe I can help others. When I went back for review at the hospital my parents would almost always take me to the ward to let the nurses and doctors see how well I was doing, but more importantly it was to let the children and parents in the cancer ward see that it is possible to survive the disease. They would use me as a role model to for others to be positive and fight the illness. It is in this role that I think I can help others. People can say ‘Look at her she survived, why can’t we.’
Being so young I did struggle with my confidence and the fact that my appearance was different to every other little girl. But I learnt to be strong and by fighting leukaemia, I learnt to never stop believing in myself. You can achieve your dreams, I am now in the final of international beauty competition - Miss Galaxy UK. My prize will be to go to America to compete in their final, something I dreamed of as a little girl. It is also provides the perfect opportunity to work with charities, help children, and to be a role model to young children. I want to be able to help and support others.”