[W]hen Whitehaven man, Dave Oakley was 19, treatment for his osteosarcoma diagnosis meant he needed his leg amputated. Now he’s running the Great North Run for the Teenage Cancer Trust after we supported him, and he wants you to join him!
“I was 18 years old and had just started university. I had been looking forward to it, especially the chance to strike out on my own and study a subject I enjoyed.
I’d had swelling in my right ankle, and the pain was getting so bad I couldn’t sleep. It couldn’t be managed with conventional painkillers, and in the end I had to go to A&E.
I had landed awkwardly when playing football not long before, and they told me that the pain I was experiencing was a ligament problem. I guess 9 out of 10 times they would’ve been right, but unfortunately not in my case.
The pain got worse and worse, and 6 months later I was sent for an x-ray, and then a biopsy less than a week after that. Things were starting to move quickly, and on the 20 December I was diagnosed with an Osteosarcoma.
I was drugged up on painkillers when they broke the news to me.
They told me that the treatment would involve chemotherapy and an amputation. I couldn’t believe it. My immediate thought was of my future; I wouldn’t be able to join the army. It had always been my plan to join the services after university, and I’d just passed the officer selection process. I was devastated.”
I started my treatment at UCLH on my 19th birthday. Some of my friends came up to the unit to celebrate in the evening, but it wasn’t a birthday I’d cherish.
After 3 months of chemo I had an allergic reaction to one of the drugs. It shut down my kidneys and liver, and I was in a coma for three days. Apparently at the time I rang my cousin, told her I wouldn’t be able to meet with her that evening as I was “just popping down to the ICU for a wee bit!”
The days on treatment were pretty rough, which was to be expected, but my time on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit wasn’t that bad. There were 5 of us who started our treatment at similar times, and we would normally be on the unit together as our treatment times overlapped. It made a huge difference as we got on so well and we could empathise with each other and share experiences. Sadly, there are only three of us left now. Losing those friends was incredibly hard.
The unit had a games room with a TV, a pool table, films, consoles, and loads of other stuff to help keep us busy and entertained. I was also lucky enough to meet celebs like Roger Daltrey when they came to visit the unit. The nursing staff were all really friendly and we’d often spend time with them, although looking back, I’m not sure if we helped or hindered them! But they didn’t seem to mind.
Having a fold out bed next to my bed was a great addition, and meant that my mum and others could stay with me in the evenings. Little things like that made a huge difference.”
The other thing that made a big difference was having a kitchen with a vending machine in it. The standard hospital food left something to be desired, and would often be brought round when I wasn’t feeling great. By the time I wanted to eat it would’ve gone cold! So having the kitchen gave me the option of eating food I enjoyed at any time.
I would distract myself by fitting in as much physio work as I could both before and after my surgery. This helped get me ready for the work I’d need to do to learn how to walk again after my surgery, and give me something to look forward to during the day.
My amputation and prosthetics fittings took place at Stanmore Hospital, and my experience was so different to how it was on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit. I was on an adult ward, there were patients in a huge range of different circumstances, and it was a pretty tough environment.
Finally I got the news that I was in remission. It was a great feeling! Although there have been times, like when I’ve experienced pain in my other ankle for example, when I have started to wonder if it could be happening again. I dread to think how I would cope if it did come back now. It’s coming up to 10 years since my treatment!
I went back to university the same year, which had always been my target right from the start of my treatment. The way I saw it, treatment was just something I had to get through, and then I could get on with my life. I had a great 4 years at uni, although only having one leg took some adjusting to and knocked me back. I’m still not totally comfortably with it, but it hasn’t limited me too much.
I’m now working as a Chemical Engineer at Sellafield. I love keeping active; I run, I hike, I play squash and ultimate frisbee, and I don’t let my prosthesis slow me down. I’ve travelled, skydived, and even tried surfing (although I struggled a bit with that one!). I am very fortunate that I now have my legs made at PACE in Manchester, I couldn’t do half the things I am capable of now if it wasn’t for them. Back when I was at uni there were days when I could barely walk the mile to lectures let alone run, they turned my life around and gave me my mobility back.
In 2013 I ran the London Marathon, and I did the Edinburgh half in 2017. Now I’m taking on the Great North Run for Teenage Cancer Trust, and am delighted to be giving back to the cause that helped me through such a difficult time in my life.”