UNIVERSITY can be a very exciting but very exhausting time for many students.
As it was for Ruby Walvin, 23, who enjoyed drinking, hanging out with her friends and going out on weekends.
But the reason behind Ruby's tiredness was a lot more sinister than too many late nights and left the young student fearing for her life.
"I felt scared, but also kept wondering if this was real. My whole life had changed overnight," she said.
It was during the song writing student's second year at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts that she started to feel exceptionally exhausted and looked very pale.
At first she put it down to drinking too much, before things took a turn for the worst.
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Within weeks, Ruby's weight plummeted as she completely lost her appetite.
She tried to see her GP, and while waiting for an appointment, collapsed on the way home from a friend's gig.
Ruby was rushed to A&E where doctors initially thought she was anaemic – a condition caused by a lack of iron in the body.
But thankfully a nurse noticed Ruby was breathless and demanded she had further tests.
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Four days later, Ruby was shocked to be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) – an aggressive form of blood cell cancer.
Cancer Research UK says ALL is rare, with around 790 people each year diagnosed with the condition in the UK.
From the latest available data in England, it is estimated that after diagnosis in those aged 15 to 24 almost seven in ten people will survive for five years or longer.
"I was terrified that this thing was going to kill me and my whole life at that time was taken up by cancer," Ruby said.
"There were very dark days as I felt quite helpless and like I was never going to get my life back," she explained.
When recalling the day of her diagnosis, Ruby said that the moment she heard the word'leukaemia' her "heart sank".
"I'd heard of it before and I knew it wasn't good.
Types of leukaemia
There are four main types of leukaemia.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) – A rapidly progressing form of the disease. More common in children.
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) – Rapidly progressive. More common in adults.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) – Slowly progressing form and more common in adults.
Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) – Progresses slowly and is more common in adults.
"I could see my parents looking scared and concerned, that's when I knew it was real," she explained.
Ruby was quickly moved to an adult cancer ward to begin the gruelling treatment.
"They took me for a bone marrow biopsy, which I had awake and this was my first taste as a cancer patient," she said.
Over the next two years, Ruby underwent intensive chemotherapy and eventually moved on to maintenance chemotherapy, which allowed her to return to university.
She experienced several infections due to treatment and said the whole ordeal affected her mental health.
Ruby said: "I was quite depressed during my treatment, as I was fed up of being in pain, as well as ill and weak.
"I wasn't in control of my life and I stopped doing the things I loved to do, like song writing and singing.
"I had also been taken away from my friends who were still [at university] and it was a very isolating time.
"I had lots of infections due to treatment and had an infection in my arm, which I had to have surgery on."
Ruby said this was a "massive step back in my recovery".
"These infections meant a long hospital stay and many more appointments," she explained.
Despite the side-effects of the treatment, Ruby went into remission after her first three cycles of chemotherapy and was declared cancer free in May 2019.
Ruby continued to have chemotherapy for the next two years and in July 2021 finally completed her treatment.
She adds: "I felt amazing to be out of treatment but also a little scary and it is all I'd known for two-and-half-years of my life.
"I also got a bit of an 'out of chemo' hangover where I had headaches and felt rough for a few months as the chemo left my system," she added.
"But once that was over my body starting to return to some normality and I had a lot more energy.
"Coming out of treatment and not having to go to weekly hospital appointments, I started to take back control of my life and have a lot more fun.
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"I feel good and have a very busy lifestyle with university, working and gigging – I love it."
According to results of a recent survey, less than one per cent of Brits are able to identify all four common symptoms of the leukaemia.
What are the symptoms of leukaemia?
The most common symptoms are:
- unusual bleeding
- repeated infection
Other symptoms of leukaemia include:
- fever or night sweats
- bone or joint pain
- swollen lymph nodes
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