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Imagine being told, at 23, that you have cancer

25th Nov 2021

"Our lives are wonderful and will continue to be so. Cancer isn’t the be all and end all. My life was flipped over by cancer, but now, I have seen the person I never knew I was." - Jika Edström

Jika Black and White WT.png

Imagine being told, at 23, that you have cancer. Imagine, at 23, thinking that this cancer could kill you. These are the questions I was confronted with when I was told I have cancer. This was just over a month ago, and not what you expect to think about at 23.

Having stomach cramps isn’t so weird right? The doctors didn’t think so either…

“Well, have you been drinking recently? Have you been stressed recently? Just take some time off, rest a little and you’ll be good as new. Try taking these pills, they’ll sort you out in no time.”

"My only option was A&E"

After two trips to A&E, countless phone calls with the GP, sleepless nights, foodless days, and two more weeks until my scheduled ultrasound, my only option was A&E for the third time.


Photo Credit – Jika Edström Illustration

Maybe they would do a couple of tests, give me the right meds, and I would be on my way. What I didn’t expect was to be spending the night in hospital. Worse, I didn’t expect to still be here now.

The moment he asked that question I remember thinking, ‘it can’t be that bad, nothing I can’t handle. Bad things don’t happen to young people anyway, right?’.

The old lady in the bed next to me was having her foot amputated in a couple of days. I know it’s wicked, but I honestly thought: ‘what they are going to tell me can’t be nearly as bad as what she was told’.

But then they told me that I have cancer...

I broke, they left. Just like that, I felt as if my entire life had disappeared. I was hollow.

I have never felt a pain like that, and at that moment, I didn’t think I would feel anything ever again.

I felt someone holding me. I managed to open my eyes – it was the old lady I had thought about just moments before. For those few minutes, this lady was all I had. I found myself clinging on to her as though I was lost at sea, and she was my lifeboat.

I loved this lady, but I was also envious of her. I was envious of them all. All these elderly women on the ward, some were so unwell they couldn’t get out of bed, and there I was, crying with envy and pain.

The next week or so was a blur.

I spent most of my time staring into space. I had thoughts – they were bad, but at some point, I accepted them. I began to come to terms with the prospect of dying. Can you imagine accepting death at the age of 23?


Photo Credit – Jack Belgrove Photography

But, despite all this, there is good news. My biopsy results showed that I definitely have cancer. Okay, that does not sound good, but my diagnosis was not what they anticipated, at all.

My doctor at the time burst into my hospital room, he cried my name and held me in his arms. He said the results were good, and that what I have is Burkitt lymphoma, which is treatable.

I’m treatable! Maybe they can cure me.

I froze. I couldn’t make sense of his words, but I knew it was good. My mum and I looked at one another and both collapsed. The smile on my doctor’s face is something I will never forget, and the tears in his eyes showed how truly blessed I had been. This was the best moment of my life.

Imagine being told, at 23, that you have cancer, and this being one of the best moments of your life.

Now, it isn’t easy. This is the hardest thing I have ever faced. The treatment is harrowing, the isolation is unimaginable, and my thoughts are dark. But one thing I have now is hope. Sharing my story is one of the many mountains I have decided to overcome through this journey.

I am only at the beginning, but there is now light where there was once darkness.

I know it will have been easier to say nothing, but one thing I want to share is awareness. Please listen to your body. You might have youth on your side, but youth cannot always armour you.

Cancer doesn’t care about your age, it doesn’t care about how much money you have, or how many friends you have. Cancer doesn’t care about your life, it doesn’t care that you have a family, it doesn’t care about your dreams, and it doesn’t care about you.

However, one thing cancer can’t do is destroy our lives.

Our lives are wonderful and will continue to be so. Cancer isn’t the be all and end all. My life was flipped over by cancer, but now, I have seen the person I never knew I was.


I’m currently in hospital undergoing intensive chemotherapy, but I know that I am strong, and I will fight this!

If you're worried about or have questions about blood cancer, the impact of coronavirus, or would like to talk through how you're feeling, please don't hesitate to contact our free and confidential Support Services Team.

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