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Meet Mitch Nelson, Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivor Diagnosed at Age 22

May 25th, 2018 |

by YouCanHQ | Supporter: All Cancers   

We love getting to know new members of the You Can Connect community! Mitch is a 24 year old Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivor who was initially diagnosed with brain cancer. We asked him a few questions about his experience. Keep reading, and then send Mitch a connection request here!

Mitch, 24, Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivor

YCC: How did you find out about your diagnosis?
MN: Initially being diagnosed with brain cancer, I made the foolish error in judgement and became "good" at ignoring all the signs and symptoms of basically a one-way ticket to the bottom. Thinking back now it would have of 4 years previous that I started seeing precursor’s to basically everything. It started with drinking and urinating roughly 14-17 litres of water a day. I simply blamed the air con at work; "Man, its dry in here".

3 years before diagnosis: I was experiencing rapidly deteriorating vision to the point where I had to take a picture on my phone to even read the PowerPoint at the front of the lecture; "Might have to get my eyes checked". 1 year before diagnosis it was losing 17kg over one year. Any food I’d managed to eat was vomited up with the amount of water I was drinking; "OK now something’s wrong". After a couple of appointments with GP’s and rheumatologists; I was basically told it was "All in my head". Ironically, it was literally and physically all in my head. It took the persistent effort of my family and one hematologist to be diagnosed with Addison’s disease (Defined as "a constellation of symptoms that indicate severe adrenal insufficiency caused by insufficient levels of the hormone cortisol"). One-night driving home from work It all came to a head. My vision became blurry, my head felt like it had some object piercing through the right side of my skull. I made it home but in a lot of pain. The next day I went in to get an MRI "Just to be sure". A Germinoma, a germ cell tumour, had wrapped around my pituitary gland, pineal gland and had a large mass lodged in my left & right ventricle. Rushed into hospital; my scans clearly being looked at by a tonne of surgeons… "You have brain cancer." The 2nd diagnosis was a bit unexpected. 5 months after being called ‘cancer free’ my blood levels came back a bit odd during a routine test. "Must be just a flu or something". The very next day my oncologist says I will need to come in for a bone marrow biopsy. "So, am I good to drive to work tomorrow?" I ask one of my youth cancer workers. It only took 30 minutes to get the emergency results in. Herded into a small room with 5 seats and a bed. One for me, one for dad, one for mum, 1 for the youth cancer worker and one for the doctor…"You have therapy related Leukemia".

YCC: Were you familiar with cancer prior to your diagnosis?
MN: In this day and age everyone has heard of cancer. Be it through sun safe campaigns, anti-smoking campaigns, charity events etc. But not something you would expect to happen to you I suppose.

YCC: What was the hardest part about being diagnosed with cancer in your early 20s?
MN: After high school you think you have your life kind of figured out. You get into uni, you start going to lecturers, find a job, find new friends in new places, “Find a girl, settle down…”. Basically, being free. You get to find the beginning of a new life. Being diagnosed with cancer at this age basically meant you had to put that all on hold to literally fight for your life.

YCC: Were you able to connect with anyone else your age with your diagnosis?
MN: Unfortunately not. But I made up for that by connecting with the amazing nurses that I met during my regular visits.

YCC: Were there any high points during your cancer experience/anything that you are grateful to have learned?
MN: It's pretty tragic that it takes an experience such as cancer to change your perspective, but you look at life in a better light. You see the good in people more, you hold those you love closer, you pursue your greatest passions harder then you ever would. Then it’s the little things. You stop and smell the roses, to look into the night sky, to appreciate the wind blowing on your face. The world feels new again.

YCC: What would you tell another young adult who was just diagnosed with testicular cancer?
MN: Cancer will never define who you are or who you want to be. Yes there will be hard times ahead, yes there will be times you will just want to throw in the towel and say “why me”, Yes you will lose some things, be it in yourself physically/mentally or elsewhere. This is OK. No one deserves to get cancer. You have a right to be angry at the universe. But In the end, you have two distinct choices. You can either get back on the proverbial horse and seize the day or spend your days idle, hiding. And The world is WAY too much fun to hide away from.

YCC: What has life after a cancer diagnosis been like for you?
MN: It’s been tough. You go through the whole Existential crisis thing, the various side affects from all the drugs you take, Graft vs host disease, scanxiety, fearing it could come back. But then again, it has been amazing comparing what I was before to what I am now. I feel more in control. The danger is no longer hidden. I have my target, its just a matter of taking it out/ waiting it out. On the fun side of things: honestly, there are not going to many other opportunities in life to binge watch all the online shows, all those movies you wouldn’t even think to watch, to play all the games and read all the books. I took it upon myself to learn a bit photography, to program microcomputers, to maintain Server hardware, be bad at looking after a bonsai (Who I named Gary) and generally suck the life out of every day.

YCC: Anything else you'd like to share?
MN: Cancers a wacky ride, but in the end, you’ve just got to play with the cards you’re dealt. Some people’s hands are just plain old shit (Excuse my French) while others have their advantages. In the end it’s how you wield that hand, how you make use of your pairs and how you deal with the less than favourable combos. Most importantly, always remember that life is all just a bit too fun if you search for it. Be silly, be bold. Be that someone who gets a smile from someone different every day. Straight from a snoopy comic “Some day we will all die, Snoopy!” Charlie exclaims. Snoopy responds; “True, but on all the other days we will not”

Click here to connect with Mitch.

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We’re the people working behind the scenes to make You Can Connect the best it can be for you. We thought we’d make our own profile to introduce ourselves in case you haven’t heard of You Can. Back in 2010, Sony Foundation Australia launched You Can to address a gap in the medical system to support adolescent and young adults with cancer in Australia. We raise funds and build You Can youth cancer centres across the country to provide a space in hospitals that is just for young people to ensure care and support is tailored towards YOU, not children, and not old people, YOU. Feel free to drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you.