'I thought I was just tired from dancing then I couldn't stand by myself'

A young dancer who put her tiredness and headaches down to five hours of gruelling practice each day was horrified to discover she was actually suffering from advanced cancer.

Libby Sunter, 20, was studying musical theatre at Leeds University and dancing for hours every day when she began to suffer from head pain, extreme fatigue and blackouts. After experiencing a sudden seizure, she was taken to A&E - but despite six days of blood tests, scans, and even a spinal tap to check for meningitis, she was informed that she was simply suffering from anaemia (a lack healthy red blood cells).

But she continued to feel unwell, and was forced to return to her family home in Childwall.

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She said: "I was really, really ill at home. I wasn't eating. I couldn't get out of bed. And then I had a really high temp and went straight back to A&E.

"By the time I went back into A&E I couldn't even stand by myself. My mum and dad were holding me up. They got me straight through onto a bed and went over all the notes from Leeds, and within a matter of days they were discussing the possibility of lymphoma.

"I was in for about 10 or 11 days, and within a week I had a biopsy and was given the diagnosis not long after."

Libby, who was just 18 at the time, was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma - cancer of the lymphatic system.

She said: "I think the biggest shock was, I thought I was very healthy. It was so unexpected. Even the symptoms I was having I completely brushed off and didn't even think they could be linked to anything as serious as what it was.

"I was just in shock for so long and I didn't know how to process it. I thought 'surely not me. There's no way this is happening'.

"Because it was stage 4, it was much more terrifying because your mind goes to the worst outcome. It was horrendous really."

Libby went through seven months of chemotherapy at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, and was given the good news that her cancer was in remission in November 2022. The disease remains in remission today, with Libby attending regular check-ups to monitor her condition.

She is now looking forward to getting back to her studies in musical theatre after her diagnosis forced her to put her life plans on hold.

Libby said: "My mum and dad are like my best friends. I'm the youngest one in the family. We were so upset because we knew I wouldn't be able to do any of the things I wanted to do before I was diagnosed, because of how much it would affect me.

"I would never go to chemo alone. I would always have people with me. I wouldn't have got through it without them.

"I'm still completely in remission. I had a scan recently as a check-up and had a full review from the doctors. I'll be kept on the system for three years, so after the three years the likelihood of relapse is tiny."

She added: "I remember starting it off trying to be as positive as I could, because you're given the cards you're dealt and there was nothing I could do to change it. But there were definitely moments where, because of how horrid the chemo side effects were, I would go days stuck at home unable to do anything.

"That was when it was mentally the hardest. Losing my hair was a huge thing. I shaved it off early on because I didn't want to watch it falling out on my pillow every day.

"I found a lot of people within the cancer community who were going through the same thing so that really helped. Because of how close I was to my family, my girlfriend, and Clatterbridge, the support system I had was amazing."

As thanks to Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Libby is now supporting its Dove Appeal, which is raising money to fund life-saving research, technology, and arts programmes to boost patient morale while they are undergoing treatment.

She said: "The support that I received from everyone in my life, but specifically from Clatterbridge, was incredible. It’s such a beautiful hospital. They just made me feel so at ease and so weirdly, really calm about everything that I was going through. The nurses were just angels.

"They became like family. There was always someone there to talk to. They always did trips for us and stuff, like, we went to zoo together and we did an escape room, we went for meals.

"And I am in a specific teenage and young adult unit, so everyone that was getting treatment was roughly my age, which helped so much. Even if you didn’t really speak to them, you just kind of knew that everyone understood what each other were going through."

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