Read Harvey’s inspiring story of his fight against cancer…
When diagnosed with cancer at just 24, Harvey vowed to approach his treatment with the same determination and dedication he applied to his rugby training. With the support of Teenage Cancer Trust, family and friends, Harvey bravely battled small round-cell desmoplastic sarcoma. Now, over a year later, he shares his inspiring story with Hidden Strength to talk about his journey, from diagnosis to recovery and beyond…
“I lived a very active life…”
Before treatment, I was a professional athlete. I’d played 7 years of Rugby League and I was still playing right before I was diagnosed. I lived a very active life and was driven towards my goals. I am very social so spare time was spent with friends, family and my dog, I also have a passion for music so gigs and festivals, although few and far between, were always my favourite.
“I noticed something was wrong…”
I had just turned 24 when I was diagnosed. I noticed something was wrong because my fitness levels started to drop. I was actually released from my team for not being able to fulfil my duties. I did sign at Rugby Union for a bit but it was tough. I found a lump later on but never put two and two together as I had never even considered it being serious. It wasn’t until months later that I was showing signs of being ill that I was diagnosed properly.
“I knew it was bad news…”
I was given my diagnosis in Kingston Hospital. The doctors operated and thought the surgery was successful, telling me that I wasn’t to worry. I then went for further tests at the Marsden in Chelsea where they told me it had spread, and I had to have treatment. I was told both times with multiple people in the room. I knew it was bad news – I’ve spent enough time in hospital through countless injuries to know when it’s not good news. So, in a way, I was already prepared. My diagnosis was small round-cell desmoplastic sarcoma.
“I was just ready for the challenge.”
My mum came with me to every appointment – she was amazing. I wasn’t very emotional as I try not to be when it doesn’t help the situation. Instead, I tried to view it as a training plan and asked at the beginning of treatment what I had to do to beat it. I told them there and then I would keep training through it. People thought for a long time I hadn’t grasped the severity of the situation but, in reality, I was just ready for the challenge.
“Teenage Cancer Trust helped me…”
I got involved with Teenage Cancer Trust around the time I was admitted to the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton. The staff would come and talk to me regularly and give me lots to do (at my request). They helped me with lots of admin, particularly as I was worrying about work and money a lot. Teenage Cancer Trust helped me most through post-treatment, discussing my goals and helping me look to the future. The support they provide cannot be quantified with words – they are there when you need them and they offer support to those around you too. This allows you to focus on what’s in front of you and maintain a positive attitude. I genuinely believe that without their support, there would be far fewer success stories.
“They saved my life…”
Treatment lasted around 10/11 months, if I remember correctly. It was one week in hospital and then one week at home, for the whole duration of treatment, with three months of radiotherapy at the end.
The ward was great and the staff were incredible from all sides. I was fortunate enough to split time between the main ward and the young people ward (majority of my time was spent in the young people’s ward) where the facilities are as good as being at home. People were able to visit me at any hour and even stay with me pre-covid. Televisions were free, and I had all the channels in the main room. They hosted activities and even let me feel useful by making beds. All this made it easier and every little thing anyone did for me, did help.
The adult ward was tougher, but the staff were amazing, nonetheless. They saved my life and made it feel as similar to home as I can remember, so it was definitely the best place on earth for me to be.
“Support is so vital…”
The physical and mental strain are equally bad. Physically, you can feel your body shutting down, each day side effects get worse and new ones appear the more run down you become. I didn’t realise how important things like hair and thick skin were until I didn’t have them anymore… for example, snot (without warning) will land on a white t-shirt when you have no nose hair, ha-ha! Your thin skin blisters if you walk too far on the souls of your feet and you can’t keep your eyes open in the wind without eyelashes – I had to put my mum’s sunglasses on in Sutton high street because I was ‘crying’ too much to see!
The sickness was the worst for me. It was everything combined: how much can I cope with; how bad does it have to get before I give up? Then, on top of that, getting up every day for a job you hate, where you get beaten up all day without pay (and I should know; I played rugby league!). Support is so vital because it puts smiles on faces and positivity is what drags you through – the will to want to live. The hardest thing about fighting cancer is staying positive.
“I was able to focus on me…”
As well as everything else you have to deal with, you have to watch the effect it’s having on your loved ones. The sleep they go without, the fear and worry in their eyes… It’s a lot of pressure, however it’s in your control if you can keep fighting and taking each day as it comes and enjoy them while you’re here and still living. That’s also what Teenage Cancer Trust do – they take pressure away and unburden you with smiles, confidence and reassurance. I was able to focus on myself and be selfish, knowing there were supportive people there all the time.
“I choose to see the positive every day…”
My mum was my support network, mainly. She moved in with me and spent every day at my side. My brother was also great and he helped me a lot. I wanted to be alone for a lot of it as I didn’t want people to see me sick, however friends were ever-present. It ruined some relationships and cemented others; I choose to see the positive every day, so I am incredibly grateful for the strong bonds I developed with people through it all. I have new friends for life in the staff and volunteers so that’s amazing.
“It’s all about what you make it…”
Cancer affected my social life completely. It is one of the side effects because you’re so vulnerable, you are told to isolate yourself from people. Not completely, but busy places are a no-go and public transport is also a big no. The staff helped me so I could go to my friend’s wedding. It’s all about what you make it, in my opinion. I had a year off work, and no one could complain about that! I went out for dinner as much as I could, I watched good films, and I planned tattoos (that I now have). My mum said yes to them all in hospital (I could ask for anything, so I made the most of it!). I lost my jobs and that was tough, but TCT helped me through that with advice and help.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do…”
I am grateful for so much, in fact, everything. The blood transfusion I received in hospital was the single most humbling experience of my life. The fact that the blood in that bag was donated by someone willing to save a life without even knowing them, no matter what race, gender, sexuality etc. It’s incredible. I can’t give blood anymore, since having cancer rules you out, but I will find other ways to give, just like someone gave to me.
The one bit of advice I would give would be no matter how hard the journey is, keep fighting with a smile on your face. Positivity can save your life, even the whole world. I have two sayings that helped me through. Firstly, “tough times don’t last but tough people do”. This one is for getting through the hard days. Champions don’t quit and they’re just normal people so you can keep going too. Secondly, “time is the only currency”. This helped me when I felt sad. I just tried to remember that I was still alive, and I could still do good things – I just had to make the effort.
“I’m not scared anymore because I am living each day.”
It is still with me today and I don’t think I’ll ever shake it. Physically, I’m struggling to get back to 100% – I can’t run the same and my back is bad, so rugby is a no for me. The thing I find hardest to shake is the anxiety of a heart attack or cancer coming back. I know I can’t live like this, so I distract myself by trying to help other people, but it isn’t easy. Post-treatment is harder, mentally.
I have yearly check-ups and I’m not scared anymore because I am living each day. There is strength in being weak and scared – if you bounce back from it – so that’s what I’m trying to do. I have a mountain climb coming up soon and an ultra-marathon. I don’t think I’m fit enough for either but I’m healthy so I will finish them! Most of all I’m happy and I am so grateful to the charities, staff and anyone else who helped me.
I now run my own non-profit company trying to help the world. We feed the homeless, care about the planet… anything we feel is good. I do this because I want to enjoy every day and have purpose because cancer has taught me the value of life.
Hidden Strength thanks Harvey for sharing his story and we wish him love, luck and happiness for the future. If this story has affected you, or you wish to find out more about the amazing work of Teenage Cancer Trust, please click here.