Teenager documents cancer treatment on camera

Aimie Caldwell with ''mum Gillian and sister Claire; below, getting her hair chopped off. Picture: comp
Aimie Caldwell with ''mum Gillian and sister Claire; below, getting her hair chopped off. Picture: comp
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BEING told she had cancer at only 16 years old, Aimie Caldwell could have been forgiven for going to pieces and shutting herself away from the world.

But despite the devastating diagnosis, the brave photography student from West Lothian decided to stand up to her illness in the only way she knew how – by picking up her camera and documenting her journey.

The result is moving reportage giving an honest account of Aimie’s experiences, beginning with her diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma in February 2013, through her six-month cycle of intensive treatment, right up to the day when she got good news with an all-clear from Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children that July.

Aimie, now 18, said: “The pictures aren’t of me, but rather of what it was like to experience cancer through my eyes, from getting to grips with all the medical equipment and hanging around hospital waiting rooms to being fitted with a wig after my hair fell out.

“It was all part of my journey, part of what people with cancer go through every day.

“We’d been given a reportage project to do at college just before my diagnosis.

“Our tutor said the images had to tell a story and this was the only story going on in my life, it was the natural thing to do.

“It became quite therapeutic in a way. It was good to have something to focus on.”

Aimie, from Livingston, submitted her project for her NC Photography Course at West Lothian College and her tutors were understandably impressed.

The images will serve as a poignant reminder for the teenager and her family as they look back on what Aimie describes as the most difficult six months of her life.

But despite having been through such trauma herself, she’s determined to help others facing the same battle.

She wants other teenagers with cancer to see her study as a picture of hope that the disease can be beaten.

And she’s not stopping there. This summer, Aimie will stand on the start line of the Capital’s first ever Pretty Muddy fundraiser, a fun 5K obstacle race through the mud that’s part of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life events, to help raise cash for vital research.

She said: “Anyone can get cancer and the only way we can help families affected – families like mine – is by trying to find new treatments and cures.

“I’m lucky, the kind of cancer I had is very treatable. Not everyone is so lucky.

“The work that Cancer Research UK do to try to find a cure is so important and I’m really proud to be taking part in Edinburgh’s first Pretty Muddy event.

“It will be great to raise money while doing something really fun.”

Aimie noticed a lump on her neck in October 2012 but, associating it with a port wine birthmark with which she was born, doctors at first thought it was a vascular issue.

It was only as the lump continued to grow and more appeared that events took a more sinister turn.

She explained: “My mum and I were on our way back to the car after I’d had an MRI scan at the Sick Kids’ Hospital and the doctor rang my mum’s mobile asking us to go back inside.

“We knew then that they’d found something.”

Aimie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Her cancer was categorised as Stage Two because two or more groups of her lymph nodes were affected.

Although around 1900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in the UK each year. Treatment for Hodgkins is usually very successful and doctors were keen to point this out to Aimie as she prepared for chemotherapy, but it was still difficult news for mum Gillian, 47, and sister Claire, 22, to take in.

One of the most traumatic moments for mum Gillian, a hairdresser, was when Aimie asked her to take clippers to her long blonde hair after chemo drugs had started to make it fall out in clumps.

Aimie said: “I know that was difficult for mum, but it was a comfort to me that she could do it and I didn’t need to go elsewhere.

“She said that she’d done it for a few clients before, but never because of cancer, and she never in a million years dreamed she would be doing it for her own daughter. I know it was tough on her.”

Amie underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy from February to June 2013, but a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan – which shows how body tissues are working – revealed more cancer cells were still present than doctors would have liked, so three weeks of daily radiotherapy sessions were prescribed.

Amie said: “It was tough, some of the side-effects were horrendous.

“My neck was continually swollen, I felt sick, and had to take steroids which made me really bloated.

“Losing my hair was very difficult – it think it was only then the news began to sink in that I actually had cancer. I’d been in shock until then.

“I got a real hair wig from Charlie Miller’s salon in Edinburgh and it played a massive part in getting my confidence back.

“It made me feel like I could get out to college on the days I felt well enough and gave me back a little of ‘me’.”

On July 30, 2013, Aimie got the news she’d been hoping for – the treatment had worked and the cancer was at bay.

For the first year she went for precautionary X-rays and ultrasounds every month.

That’s now been reduced to every six weeks but will continue for the foreseeable future to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.

For now, Aimie is concentrating on getting back the time she lost.

She’s planning a holiday with boyfriend Kyle McBain, 21, and is loving her full-time job in customer services with financial firm Aegon. Every spare penny from her wages is being saved to plough into the photography business she wants to start one day.

She added: “I’ve been through a tough time, but I’m happier and healthier than ever and I want to give something back to recognise all the help and support I received during my treatment.

“I want to raise as much money as I can by doing Pretty Muddy so I help other sufferers beat cancer sooner and get us closer to finding a cure.”

Survival rates have doubled

Cancer survival rates have doubled since the 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

But more funds and more supporters are needed to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

Money raised through Race for Life allows Cancer Research UK’s doctors, nurses and scientists to advance research which is helping to save the lives of men, women and children all over Scotland.

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.

On your marks to get pretty muddy

Entries are now open for Edinburgh’s very first Pretty Muddy event.

The women-only 5K obstacle course, part of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life events in partnership with supermarket Tesco, is the perfect challenge for anyone looking to get off the sofa and be more active in 2015.

Open to women and girls over 13, Pretty Muddy isn’t about blood, sweat and tears – it’s about fun, friendship and fundraising.

The event takes place at Dalkeith Country Park on Saturday, June 13, and will involve eight-ten obstacles, with a combination of messy and muddy challenges to climb over and crawl under.

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK’s Scottish spokeswoman, said: “We’re so excited about staging Race for Life Pretty Muddy in Edinburgh for the first time and we’re calling on local ladies to sign up now.

“Pretty Muddy promises all the fun and camaraderie of our much loved 5k and 10k events – just with an extra serving of mud and obstacles.”

To enter Race for Life, go to raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770.