Teen cancer survivor tells how Maggie’s changed his life

Cancer survivor Andrew Mactavish has found Maggie's to be a lifeline since his diagnosis. Picture: Jon Savage

Cancer survivor Andrew Mactavish has found Maggie's to be a lifeline since his diagnosis. Picture: Jon Savage

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A STUDENT who was diagnosed with an aggressive blood cancer when he was just 19 has told how seeking support helped him to see a life after the disease.

Andrew Mactavish was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007, after going to the doctors with a persistent cough.

Despite being young and healthy, doctors discovered that fluid had built up in his lungs, making it difficult to breathe, and there was also a lump on his liver.

He was rushed to the specialist liver unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for surgery to remove the tumour before starting chemotherapy to root out the cancer in his blood.

Exhausted by the treatment, Andrew turned to the Maggie’s Centre at the Western General Hospital for comfort and support during this dark time.

The Evening News is backing the charity’s “Buy a Brick” appeal that aims to build a £1.2 million extension to allow the centre to offer support to an additional 5,000 people per year

Andrew, who now lives with his family in Auchtermuchty, Fife, said: “I got talked into going along to the young adults group, which I was a bit unsure about.

“Before cancer and before going to Maggie’s I was a stereotypical shy teenager, playing computer games on my own.

“That lasted about 20 seconds when I got to Maggie’s.

“You walk in and you haven’t got a hope in hell of hiding in the corner.”

The 27-year-old has been attending the group at the Edinburgh Centre for the past eight years as he struggled to come to terms with life after cancer.

Side effects from chemotherapy left him with lingering health problems and he has sought support in how 
to rebuild his life after the disease.

He said: “I am about eight years clear of cancer but I still want to understand what the term ‘cancer survivor’ actually means.

“I’ve got all sorts of after-effects from chemotherapy so it doesn’t feel like it is over.”

The support from Maggie’s helped Andrew to overcome his shyness and to make friends with people who understood what he has been through.

Andrew has been able to go back to college to study computing and to start to plan for his future.

Backing our appeal, he said: “When you first get diagnosed with cancer, you are just in shock. It is even more difficult because you feel you are the only one. But what I learned at Maggie’s is that until you have cancer, you do not realise just how many other people have it.

“The first thing I want to tell people who are diagnosed is you are not alone.

“Every single one of us will do anything we can to help you.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com