'Growing up with cancer has taught me to make the most of life'

Beau Johnston has written about her experiences of cancer after being diagnosed aged two.

A teenage girl who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged just two has said it taught her to not take life for granted.

Beau Johnston has undergone brain surgery and seven rounds of chemotherapy over the years to shrink the growth surrounding her optic nerve – because removing it altogether could leave her blind.

The 16-year-old, from Edinburgh, started writing about her experiences to help raise awareness and share what it’s like being a young person living with cancer.

Marking childhood cancer awareness month, she wrote: “Growing up is difficult enough, let alone growing up with cancer. Most people must navigate hurdles in their childhood, while I must navigate mountains.

“I don’t remember my diagnosis, or the start of my journey with cancer due to how young I was. I think this is a good thing as it’s often the most traumatic and scary part of having cancer.

“I often wonder whether my brain has actively decided to erase those memories because of how horrific they must have been.”

Beau was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged two.

Beau launched her blog to kickstart a conversation around cancer and answer questions people may be too afraid to ask.

In the article, she told how she attended hospital for a brain scan every three to four months, describing the anxiety of waiting for results as “torturous”.

She said the effects of chemotherapy were “horrendous”, including hair loss and exhaustion that left her bedbound for days.

The teenager also recalled feeling lonely watching her friends go out without her as she underwent the gruelling treatment after lockdown rules were lifted.

Speaking to STV News, Beau said: “I was seeing friends meeting on Snapchat and Instagram outside and I wasn’t able to as it was too risky. The isolation definitely played into that, I was sat in my bed feeling rubbish.

“But my friends have stuck by me, during the whole thing. Two came by when I had chemotherapy with a massive bag of snacks.

“Reaching out and letting them know they’re thinking of you really helps. I’m a lot closer to my family and my support system. I couldn’t have done without any of them.”

Beau visits the hospital for scans every three months.

While she is in recovery, Beau has been throwing herself into her favourite hobbies, including dancing, youth politics and gymnastics.

She has also credited therapy with helping her learn coping mechanisms to make her health journey easier and uses writing as an outlet to help improve her mental health.

“With my brain tumour, I have the choice of letting it grow, which can lead to something dangerous, or getting on with it [chemotherapy],” she said. “If things don’t go right, there’s always another way.

“I wasn’t able to do certain things a couple of months ago, so I take advantage where I can. If you can manage to do something on chemo, you can definitely do it while not. It puts things into perspective.”

She added: “This has taught me perseverance, which I would not have had without this whole experience. It teaches me not to take life for granted and to take opportunities.

“Next time, I could lose my sight and go blind. There are variables I am not able to control, so I’m making the most of my life and enjoying it rather than worrying about what is next.”

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