Student told he had blood cancer days before 21st birthday

A Scottish student was diagnosed with cancer just days before his 21st birthday.

Chris Graham, who had treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma
Chris Graham, who had treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma

Chris Graham was forced to put university life on hold to endure six months of chemotherapy after tests on a lump on his neck in April last year revealed he was fighting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells.

He battled exhaustion, infections and lost his hair during treatment.

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But what a difference a year makes. Chris of Barrhead, Glasgow is clear of cancer, a regular at the gym and gearing up to return to St Andrews University in Fife to study ancient history and archaelogy.

And in Scotland, Chris is launching Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon, challenging Scots to take on Dryathlon and ditch the drink this September to help raise vital funds for research.

Dryathletes pledge to stay dry for a month and either get sponsored or donate the money they would have spent on alcohol.

Chris said: “Being told I had cancer was a complete shock.

“It came out of the blue. I had a lump on my neck for a year and just thought it could be related to kidney problems or an infection which I’d had in the past. But looking back now I can see that I was really unwell. I’d wake up at night with the bed soaking with sweat and I was exhausted all the time.

“After a biopsy was done on the lump I was diagnosed with cancer. My mum, who went with me to the clinic, said alarm bells started ringing for her when we were waiting to see the consultant for the results. Telling family and friends who I care about so much that I had cancer was perhaps the most difficult thing I had to do.”

Chris, now 23, was treated at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow after the diagnosis on April 9 2015 - 12 days before his birthday. He recalls vividly what he now calls, Terrible Tuesday- the day he was rushed back to hospital after his first round of chemotherapy led to an infection. But his mum, Anne Graham, dad Peter Graham, sister, Karen Graham, and best pals were there every step of the way to support him.

Chris said: “My first session of chemotherapy didn’t go so well.

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“I ended up really very ill and had to go back to hospital. It was pretty scary and my dad started to refer to it as Terrible Tuesday. From then on during these months of treatment my dad would take me out on a drive if it was a terrible Tuesday.

It was a chance to relax, take in some good scenery and take my mind off the treatment. Now I’m well again I like to make a point of Tuesdays being about fun stuff like visiting a comedy club with friends. But the medical staff were absolutely fantastic all through my treatment.

“I met a lot of people of my age or even younger who were also going through cancer. We were all in it together and going through the same thing. They helped me to never give up. They helped me see that at the end of the day there is always someone who has things harder than you. If you give up then what does that mean for them? You have to be strong for them too? Although having cancer was a difficult time, I really felt it was a battle I wasn’t facing alone.

“I went back to the gym in December. I started at the bottom. Now I can run two miles and lift substantial weights. Getting through cancer has been a marathon in itself but it’s taught me so much. I’ve seen there’s a lot of people out there to help. That’s why I’m urging everyone to register now and become a ‘Dryathlete’ for Cancer Research UK. They can achieve personal glory by banning the booze for a month and raising money for life-saving research.”

Last year, 6,068 people took part in Dryathlon across Scotland, raising a fantastic £605,159 to help beat 200 types of cancer. Supporters can register to take part in Dryathlon as individuals or set up a team by getting friends, colleagues or relatives involved to motivate each other along the way.

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, said: “We’re delighted that Chris is helping us to highlight Dryathlon this September. We hope he will inspire others to say ‘cheers to no beers’ and sign up today.

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“Many of us may have overindulged during the summer months - sofa-surfing while watching the bumper crop of sports competitions or sipping cocktails on holiday. By making a commitment now to be booze-free for September, everyone can kick-start a healthier autumn. Despite what people might think - going dry doesn’t have to be dull. We’re asking people to give up the sauce, not their social life, and there are plenty of fun ways to enjoy 30 hangover-free days.

“It takes stamina and real commitment to stay the course. We hope family and friends will rally round and support our Dryathletes to go the distance as they summon the willpower to ban the booze for a brilliant cause. So whether they’re new to the dry challenge or back to defend their title, we’re urging Scots to sign up now to drop the drink in September and help beat cancer sooner.”

For those who think the challenge sounds a bit too daunting, or have a wedding or party to attend, there’s a special ‘tipple tax’. So if a Dryathlete falls off the wagon, they can donate a £20 penalty.