A young woman who only had four months to live in 2017 when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer at just 22 years old is now working for an app that connects people like her and helps fight loneliness.
Devastated when the lump she first noticed on her right leg in January 2016 was diagnosed 18 months later as incurable sarcoma – a cancer that begins in the bones and soft tissues – the 26-year-old student said for digital marketing, Katherine Mills, she feels acutely isolated.
Katherine of Sutton, south London, whose cancer is now stable despite the disastrous early prognosis, said: “I had this very backward experience with cancer because the more stereotypical journey is that someone is diagnosed with cancer and their counselors aren’t. Don’t worry .
They told me I would be lucky if I could make it by Christmas. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“You put them on a ‘watch and wait’ ‘and then the cancer gets worse. You try chemo, but the chemo doesn’t work. You find out it’s a terminal and then you die.
“I was told I was going to die instantly and now things have settled down and my cancer is pretty stable.
“At first it was a terrible shock and it can be very lonely to say that when you are 22 you have four months to live.”
She added, “Working on the app helped me a lot in figuring out what my personal mission should be in all of this.”
When Katherine Brad Gudger met Sargent through charity work for CLIC in October 2018, he told her about Alike, an app he founded to connect cancer patients with similar experiences so they can share their thoughts, feelings, and feelings less alone.
According to a study by Alike, 12,500 young people in the UK develop cancer each year – 83 percent of whom experience loneliness during and after treatment.
Well, in order not to be treated, it actually feels like I’ve got my life back. In a way, I was able to start over.
Katherine, who agreed to take over the communication lead for the app in January 2021 and help people like her make friends in similar situations, said, “I feel a very strong responsibility to people who are endangered.
“I was there planning my funeral when I was young.
“As someone with terminal cancer, I know our stories aren’t told often, but I’m in a unique position now to tell people what happened to me and to try to bring people with similar experiences together to to give each other support. “
She added, “It is a truly personal mission for me to tell the story of living with terminal cancer because not everyone will go into remission, not everyone will be cured.
“Living with an incurable disease can be very isolating and it is very important to me that our voices are heard.”
Katherine first realized something was wrong in January 2016 when she noticed her energy levels began to drop.
She said, “I was really, really very tired. I was just very tired the whole time. At first I put it down to being so tired from commuting to university. I thought it was freshman flu or something. “
But later that month she passed out on a train station platform and decided to see a doctor.
She said, “I was standing on the platform in Clapham Junction in South West London when the train pulled in. Within seconds, I wasn’t feeling well anymore, got up and suddenly thought of the university just collapsed. “
Katherine was caught by other passengers falling to the ground and after passing by decided to seek medical advice.
“Doctors did some blood tests,” she said. “They put me on iron tablets, but around the same time I started coughing up blood.”
Katherine now believes that her youth meant doctors didn’t think it could be cancer and instead diagnosed a breast infection.
I’m in a unique position to be at the terminal, but I’m not under a ticking clock so I still want to do things with my life.
She said, “They gave me antibiotics, but they didn’t do anything. I ended up being sent to A&E for a blood transfusion, and then I noticed the lump on the back of my leg.
“I reported it to a doctor, but they brushed it off.”
It was 18 months before, in August 2017, then at the age of 22, doctors at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital in central London told Katherine she had sarcoma.
“It was a shock of course, but my first thought was,” OK, how are you going to fix this? “, She said.
“I figured I would need surgery or start chemotherapy. At that point, I thought if you got cancer, you would have treatment and then go into remission.
“But it wasn’t like that for me. When I asked about my prognosis, I couldn’t help but notice my nurse’s face falling.”
Amazingly, the doctors gave Katherine four months to live and advised her to put her affairs in order.
“They told me I would be lucky if I could make it by Christmas,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Katherine lived with her parents, retired IT contractor Peter, 64, and retired bank teller Patricia, 62. She received chemotherapy and tried to make the most of the months that followed.
“Christmas came and went,” she said. “I was still here, but I didn’t have a life. The treatment was exhausted. “
Then, in January 2020, she was diagnosed with a fungal chest infection and had to stop chemotherapy in order to receive treatment.
Katherine said, “I haven’t had chemotherapy for nine months. I had regular scans and during that time my tumor hadn’t grown at all. “
I have faced many adversities that have stacked against me and I want to use my skills to help other people like me develop cancer.
She added, “It was then that I made the decision to stop treatment altogether and enjoy the fact that my cancer was stable.
“My life was pretty much limited to chemotherapy in terms of what I could do and eat, and I was just so tired that I slept all the time.
“Well, in order not to be treated, it actually feels like I’ve got my life back. I was able to start over in a way.”
In fact, Katherine felt good enough to return to university, where she is doing a Masters in digital marketing and working for the charity.
She said, “My and Brad’s friendship began with a drink at Soho House, and now we have an office at Soho Works.
“His friendship and my work for Alike have helped me understand what my personal mission is, and this sense of friendship and community enabled me to imagine a life where cancer is not the focus.”
I have scans every three months, but right now the cancer isn’t really doing anything.
She added, “This is an incredibly powerful experience that I want to bring to all patients and survivors. That is the incredible thing about the Alike app.”
Katherine feels that when it comes to support from their peers and the wider community, people with a terminal diagnosis are often overlooked.
She said, “There are understandable reasons why terminal people are often very focused on spending time with loved ones.”
Our stories aren’t often told, but I’m in a unique position now to bring people with similar experiences together and support one another.
She added, “But I’m in a unique position to be at the terminal, but I’m not under a ticking clock so I still want to do things with my life.”
“I have scans every three months – I’m what they call” watch and wait “because the cancer isn’t really doing anything right now. You keep a close eye and wait to see what happens.
“I’m very grateful for that. I’ve faced a lot of adversity that has been piled against me and I’m really happy to be dealing with things like” like “so that I can use my skills to help other people like me help develop cancer. “