My name is Chelsey Dixon. I am currently a GB Paracanoe athlete with hopes of going to Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. I made my international debut in Augiust 2018 at the ICF Sprint Canoe World Championships in Montemor O’Velho, Portugal, from which I am now 9th fastest K1 200m KL3 Women in the world. This is my first para sport which I classify for due to side effects from a rare high grade metastatic sarcoma (cancer) diagnosis at the age of 14 which started in my right thigh and spread to my brain and lungs. I was initially given an 8 week terminal prognosis but underwent 18 months of invasive treatment and am still here completely healthy 8 years later. Due to the aggressiveness of the treatment, and the size of the tumour on my thigh, I am left with a lot of post treatment side effects.
I have only been kayaking for two and a half years and I expect to be paddling for a lot longer. In the two and a half years that I have been paddling, I have been borrowing a boat from British Canoeing or friends and it is now time for me to buy my own boat! This boat will follow me to any national and international competition I go to for the foreseeable future.
If a business would like to sponsor a set amount, I am able to put a company logo onto my boat. Please email for more details - email@example.com
**CONTINUE READING BELOW FOR FULL STORY AND PICTURES OF MY CANCER JOURNEY**My Story – Chelsey Dixon, 22, Lichfield, West Midlands.
At the age of 13 whilst on holiday with my parents and 3 siblings, I found a lump on my right thigh. I thought it was just a bite and continued my holiday as normal. It wasn’t until I got home and realised the lump was still there and seemed bigger than before. I told my parents about it and was told to keep an eye on it and let them know if it got worse. It did. However, I didn’t tell them anything. I was scared and stupidly decided to hide the lump as it grew and grew. Little did I know, this lump was a cancerous tumour that had also spread to my brain and my lungs.
The tumour in my brain eventually grew that big over a period of 8 months that it pushed my brain to the side and changed the way I acted; I had gone from being a happy, sporty, outgoing teenager to a silent, lethargic one. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. I was physically conscious but mentally unconscious. My parents knew there was something wrong and took me to the a&e where I was diagnosed on the spot with cancer as there was nothing else it could have been at the size that it was.
I was sent for scans and biopsies over the space of the next few days which is where my brain and 6 lung tumours were discovered. My diagnosis was finalised as rare high-grade metastatic sarcoma, further undefined. The tumour on my thigh was now the size of a football, my brain tumour the size of an apple, and my lung tumours the size of grapes. I was extremely ill. I was taken to a hospital near me who turned me away and said there was nothing more they could do for me. They essentially wanted to send me home with an 8-week prognosis.
My parents did not give up and I ended up at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. 5 days after my diagnosis, I was lying in an operating theatre having a major 8 hour brain operation to try and remove the tumour inside my head. This operation was a success! Due to how far my cancer had progressed, doctors didn’t know what type of sarcoma I had and so they gave me the most aggressive treatment for all types; they ‘threw the book at me’.
I was transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust ward and underwent 6 months of inpatient chemotherapy, a leg operation to remove my then shrunk thigh tumour, 6 months of outpatient chemotherapy, a lung operation to remove the final tumour that the chemotherapy didn’t remove, and finally 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy to all 3 areas that I had cancer.
We joke now and say that there was only 1 part of my body that wasn’t affected by my treatment...my belly button! Whilst asleep a little while after my brain operation, I remember thinking that I had a grain of sand or grit on my leg. I brushed it off, not knowing that this was in fact the scab from my biopsy. This meant that as the chemotherapy was successfully killing the tumour, some of it was turning to liquid and I would wake up every morning in a pool of this liquid, regardless of how many bandages and plasters we would wrap it in overnight! Not only was this uncomfortable but as a 14 year old teenager, I was horrified that I was having to be washed by nurses every morning because I couldn’t control what my body was doing.
During my brain operation, I had a Hickman (central) line put in that was attached to my heart and hung around 30cm outside of my chest. This was so that I could be connected to the drip machines meaning the chemotherapy could be directly pumped around my body. The side effects were horrific. I was constantly throwing up and not eating much at all for the duration of the time I was being drip fed the chemotherapy. I lost my hair...everywhere! After my brain operation, I was left with double vision. This meant I had to wear an eye patch alternately on each eye. This double vision was on going for the most part of my treatment, I was lethargic with not even the energy some days to get out of bed, or even lie in bed and watch telly. My nails died, I was constantly riddled with mouth ulcers and gum diseases which made my teeth wobbly and made it hard for me to clean my teeth. I also lost the complete movement and sensation in both of my feet, something called foot drop, my thumbs got stuck at a 90 degree angle, and my vocal chords stopped moving meaning I had to re-learn to control my feet, walk, write and speak! When the sensation started to come back, I was struck with the most horrific nerve pain; I was unable to let anyone slightly touch my feet or stand up without being overcome with pain.
The loss of movement and sensation in my feet came with other problems; I was always tripping over and kicking things. On the way to the beach on a holiday a year or so after treatment, I was sat in the car reading my book with a catering flask on the floor between my feet that we used for tea and coffee on the beach. The flask had fallen over on the drive without me knowing and had starting to pour boiling hot water all over my left foot. I didn’t feel this until it seared into my nerves and made me whole leg twitch about a metre of the ground, and I was faced with my steaming pink converse! Luckily, we were close to a hospital and within the hour, I was having the blistered burnt skin peeled off my foot. Thankfully this didn’t leave much of a scar, but it is safe to say that I was never trusted near the flask again!
My mobility was dramatically affected, and this is what affected me more than anything. I had gone from running for 90-minute football games for West Bromwich Albion, racing 1500m track for county and competing in hour-long cross-country races, to being bed bound for at least the first 6 months of treatment. I then was faced with the task of pushing myself in a wheelchair and then learning how to walk again. I can walk unaided now but I cannot run or jog. I had to have two thirds of my right quads removed meaning that I have little strength in that leg as well as a scar with a skin graft covering most of my right thigh. I have had lots of physiotherapy and tendon lengthening surgery on my right ankle, but both of my feet still have minimal movement and feeling in them.
Overall, my treatment lasted 18-months from the age of 14-16 whilst undergoing my GCSE’s. I missed a lot of school time and felt that being ill had altered my friendships with all my close friends. They stuck by me throughout my treatment, and I am still best friends with many of them, but it was hard to maintain the friendship we had with me not being in school, let alone with the taboo subject of cancer.
I went for 5 years post treatment without doing any sport and at first this wasn’t a big issue; I was more bothered about getting good GCSE’s. I was told by one doctor that I should say goodbye to my sporting career and for this period, I did. It wasn’t until I went on a trip with a charity called Climbing Out that gets people who have gone through life changing illnesses or injuries into outward bounds activities. I was reluctant to go; I didn’t want to be stuck at the back unable to do anything, but this trip truly changed my life. There wasn’t a single activity I wasn’t able to do and its safe to say that I surprised myself! It made me realise that I wasn’t finished with sport. It was from here that I found my way into my new journey.
I am now 22 years old and am completely healthy. I was given the all clear in 2012 and only have few minor physical side effects. I have found a para sport that I absolutely love doing and have managed to get onto the British Team. The side effects in my ankles/feet along with my lack of quads means that I classify for the British Paracanoe Team as a KL3 paddler. I am already competing at international level with my international debut in August 2018 at the ICF Sprint Canoe World Championships in Montemor O’Velho, Portugal, from which I am now 9th fastest K1 200m KL3 Women in the world. I am hoping to race at more international competitions including Toyko 2020 Paralympics and expect to still be paddling through at least the Paris 2024 and LA 2028 cycles.
I have so far completed 2 years of a 3 year Biomedical Health Degree studying the bodies mechanisms and how disease affects it. I want to eventually use my experience as a positive to help people who are also ill to get better. But for now, I am taking an Authorised Break of Study (ABS) from university for 2 years to focus on my sport with hopes to get to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Having cancer at such a young age made me grow up extremely young. But I wouldn’t change any of it. I have made some amazing friends through some amazing charities and wouldn’t have achieved even half of what I have achieved. I am currently an ambassador for and work with multiple charities that either get people of all ages and abilities into sports or help teenagers/young adults post cancer treatment treatment. I always wanted to have a career in sport but I never thought that I’d be a GBR athlete and I never thought it would be for a para sport racing in a boat, but I believe everything happens for a reason and I am happier now that I could ever imagine being!
The charities I am involved with:
Ambassador for Inspire Sport Community Games
Ambassador for Youth Cancer Trust
Patient Ambassador for Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham
Help with Sport Birmingham
Help with Climbing Out
PICTURES ARE BELOW**WARNING - SOME IMAGES ARE OF GRAPHIC NATURE**Pictures
Picture 1 - My Brain Scan. The dark circle towards the front of my head is my tumour
Picture 2 - *GRAPHIC* My leg tumour around my date of diagnosis
Picture 3 - Post brain op. I had to wear a bandage around my head to reduce swelling
Picture 4 - First night out of the brain ward 4 days post brain op and onto the oncology ward.
Picture 5 - A week into being on the Teenager Cancer Trust Ward. You can see the size of my thigh tumour on here wrapped in bandages to prevent leaking
Picture 6 - The start of my hair loss
Picture 7 - Asleep just after my leg op. Still dreary from the anesthetic.
Picture 8 - The dressings on my legs post op to remove tumour and have a skin graft from me left thigh to my right. This was at the Royal Orthopedic Hospital, Birmingham
Picture 9 - A week after my leg op. Trying to put my thumbs up
Picture 10 - Back in to have my scar seen to. Had to have a change of dressings as well as having scabs cleaned of. This wasn't painful at all as I cannot feel any of my skin graft