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  • Will
  • 22nd Feb. 2022

“My experience has given me plenty of scars, both physical and mental."

Invercargill local Will was enjoying spending time with family and friends, going to school, and gaming, when everything changed. At just 14 years old, he was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a rare blood condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells.

“When I first stepped inside Starship and met my oncologist it was a little surreal, and I thought ‘I don’t belong here’.”

Will had to undergo three different kinds of intense chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant. The treatments were difficult, but Will also had to face several other challenges throughout his journey.

“I was due to start treatment in September 2019, but the measles outbreak in Auckland had occurred. A person who tested positive had sat in the same waiting room as me, so I was sent home for the 8-week incubation period, as it could be lethal if I tested positive for measles while on chemo.”

Once Will was able to complete the chemotherapy treatments he then had the daunting wait for a bone marrow transplant.

“The build-up to the bone marrow transplant was hard. It was just mum and me in a small room and I was vomiting almost every day and couldn’t hold my food down; at times, I was vomiting up my feeding tubes. Getting out of bed was also a hassle, as I was constantly hooked up to an IV pole.

“I was asleep for most of the transplant but had a splitting headache and began vomiting because of the large quantity of blood I had received. The days following were just spent waiting for signs of new blood cells to show up on the readings.”

Will was stuck bed-bound whilst he waited to hear the result of his bone marrow transplant and at every turn, there seemed to be a new challenge.

“For sampling purposes, I had to urinate in jugs for the nurses to collect, but one night I simply couldn’t stand up on my own to get a jug, my mum had to help me. My legs felt as though they were all nerves and had no muscles. I could move but had no strength to stand up. The next day my legs began twitching uncontrollably, and they began causing me immense pain. I lost all capability of walking, and any movement in them caused me to begin howling in pain. Cultures of my blood showed I had developed a staph infection, which had turned into sepsis.”

Alongside this, the transplant had failed, shown due to a lack of neutrophils (a type of white blood cells) appearing in his readings. Meaning, Will would have to undergo another transplant.

“One night, as I waited for my second transplant, I started having chest pains, thinking it was a side effect of the drugs, but the pain got worse, and I had difficulty breathing. I legitimately thought I was having a heart attack and began thinking that this was how I would die. It turned out that I was having a subconscious panic attack, but I was incredibly shaken.

"This time around, the transplant worked incredibly well, and I was discharged to recover.”

Will’s treatments meant he had to miss out on a lot, during such a crucial time, such as school, spending time with friends, and socialising.

“I didn’t necessarily miss school, but I missed spending time with friends and socialising, and the feeling of sitting in a classroom and learning.

“I couldn’t even do online learning with school, because I couldn’t focus or keep up with the curriculum.”

Will connected with CanTeen when he left the hospital and started therapy with one of our Psychosocial Support Workers (PSWs). CanTeen PSWs provide individual support and therapy to rangatahi to help reduce distress and increase wellbeing.

“My experience has given me plenty of scars, both physical and mental. I had PTSD, induced from some of the experiences.

“I know I can bottle up my emotions at times, so it helps to get it all out.”

“I’ve had regular therapy sessions with my CanTeen Psychosocial Support Worker to help me with my general mental wellbeing. It has been incredibly beneficial, as it gives me an outlet to talk about my problems and provides support.

“I also had my sessions online and I think that made it better. It meant I could be in an environment I was comfortable in.”

Will also enjoyed CanTeen’s online events, which are led by Youth Workers and support rangatahi to connect with others their age who have experienced similar challenges. CanTeen events also provide a space for rangatahi to have some respite and help reduce isolation.

“One online event I joined was a Christmas Zoom, and we teamed up to do a quiz on all things Christmas.”

Will, who is back at school in Invercargill, has a strong support system around him, from friends and family to services like CanTeen.

“My entire journey has led me to develop a better resilience to life, and as such, I have focused more on living the life I want to live, rather than the one other people want me to.”

Recently, Will, a keen aviation buff, also had the opportunity of a lifetime after connecting with Uplift in Kind, a wonderful non-profit organisation that gives rangatahi experiencing hardship aviation experiences. Will travelled with his family to Queenstown to take on a breath-taking helicopter landing experience with his dad, all thanks to Uplift in Kind.

“The trip to Queenstown was great! It gave me the chance to have a break from school and some of the hassles of life and to spend time with my family and enjoy gorgeous scenery with my dad. It was a very nice day.”