I remember the day I went to see Ariana Grande as if it were yesterday.
I’d been to lots of concerts before, but this was the first time I’d seen her, and being such a huge fan, I was super excited.
I’d only managed to get one ticket, but my cousin, Bethany, was also going with her friend, so we met up before heading to our seats in different parts of the arena.
Ariana was amazing, it was such a good evening.
After she finished, I made my way out to wait for my cousin.
I was just about to walk into the foyer when suddenly there was a loud bang, like nothing I’d ever heard before.
It shook the entire building.
Smoke started to come from the foyer and people were running away screaming. I knew it was some kind of bomb.
I stood still for about 10 seconds before trying to feel my way along the wall to get out.
All around, I saw so much stuff that nobody should ever have to see in their life.
Even now I can’t bring myself to think about it.
I felt totally numb, but desperate to find my cousin.
I searched frantically outside before eventually locating her, unscathed, some 45 agonising minutes later.
We didn’t stop hugging each other.
By now, so many police and ambulance crews had arrived and I’d managed to get hold of my worried dad, Damian, who was picking me up and knew something awful had happened.
On the drive home, I was very quiet.
It was all so raw and I was in such a state of shock and disbelief.
As we listened to the radio, that’s when the full horror of what had happened started to hit me.
The numbers of those who had died started to be reported and it was devastating to take it in.
Still very numb the next day, I couldn’t face going to school, because I knew people would want to ask so many questions, so I stayed at home.
It was all too much for me, and I found the next few days, weeks and months very tough.
I felt anxious and traumatised by what I had seen, and I didn’t want to go anywhere with large crowds or go out on my own.
If I heard any loud bang, I’d find myself shaking or bursting into tears.
I also had horrendous night terrors where I’d wake up going over the events, wondering what would have happened if I had walked into the foyer 10 seconds earlier.
Two years on and I still find it hard going to large crowded events, any noise still makes me anxious.
Yet despite all of this, I have been determined not to let the bomb define me – I’m a happy-go-lucky person who loves to make people laugh – so in October 2017, I went to see John Bishop at the Nottingham Arena.
I was initially nervous, but I kept telling myself, ‘Do not let what happened spoil your love of laughter.’
John’s jokes distracted me from thinking about Manchester.
However, as I slowly got on with my life again, I’d started to notice I was getting a lot of pain in my arms, shoulder and back.
I worked part-time as a dancer and I put it down to muscle pain, but by November it was so bad it sometimes took me an hour to get out of bed as I couldn’t sit up.
I was sent for a blood test, and shortly afterwards told I needed to go to hospital.
I still thought it was a muscle problem.
They asked me to stay for further tests, as they had discovered something wrong with my results.
I was put on a ward with a lot of people, which totally freaked me out because of my terror of crowds.
My mum, June, didn’t leave my side, sleeping in the chair next to my bed. She was and she still is my total rock.
Eventually, after many scans and a biopsy, the doctor told me I had a rare form of cancer – Ewing’s sarcoma.
I tried to think he might be wrong, but mum was really upset and seeing her crying hit me hard.
All I could think was, ‘Am I going to die?’
But the doctor was so reassuring and caring that it really helped me come to terms with what was happening.
In December 2017, I started chemotherapy.
I was allowed home for Christmas, then I went back to the hospital for an intense round of 17 cycles until October 2018.
Just after I started, I began to lose my hair.
That was, by far and away, the hardest thing to deal with.
I loved my long blonde hair, and it was a huge part of who I was.
When I started to see it drop to the floor, I sobbed.
I chose not to have it cut off, but let it fall naturally.
By last July, it had all gone.
I was given a lovely blonde wig and a party one that’s currently purple, which I swap around depending on how I am feeling and what I’m doing.
Getting on with life
The chemo has definitely helped with the pain, but it’s caused other problems.
I’ve been very sick, sometimes I can’t eat and I’ve felt exhausted.
I’ve developed mouth ulcers, an achy jaw, fuzzy vision and I have also had infections including a blood clot on my lung that could have killed me, but thanks to a regular scan, they found it in time.
Recently, I had a nosebleed that lasted for over 12 hours.
Some days, I can’t dress myself and the pain can be so bad even the pressure of a blanket is too much for me.
But I have definitely not lost my sense of humour throughout all of this, and my amazing family – my parents, gran, Marion, two sisters, Lauren and Robyn, and my dog, Beau – have really helped me get through it all.
My friends Joseph, Danielle and Mariesha come to see me too, and when I’m feeling alright I do like to go to the pub or go out shopping.
I’ve also been to some gigs throughout my treatment, including back to Manchester last year to watch Harry Styles.
I went with my sister, Robyn, and it was emotional returning to the place where many had lost their lives, but I was determined not to be beaten by it.
As for my treatment, I had some radiotherapy on my brain late last year to combat some headaches I was suffering from, and now I’m on another bout of chemo.
I have no idea when I will finish, but one day I’d love to go back to teaching dance.
I hope by sharing my story, young people will realise that cancer does not destroy a person.
I am still Jodie who loves to be funny and tell jokes.
And just as I didn’t want to let the Manchester bombing define me, nor do I want to be defined by the cancer.
Yes it can bring bad things, but it’s only an illness. I am still me.
EWING’S SARCOMA: THE FACTS
● Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare cancer of the bone and soft tissue, which is mostly diagnosed in teenagers. Symptoms include pain, swelling or tenderness near the affected area; bone pain, which may worsen at night; fever; unintended weight loss or a broken bone with no known cause. Every year around 40 young people are diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in England.
● Jodie is supporting Race For Life in partnership with Tesco, and taking part in a Pretty Muddy event. Donate to her cause HERE
● To help raise money for Cancer Research UK’s vital work, there are over 400 Race For Life events taking place across the UK between May and October. And for the first time, men are being encouraged to join in the fun too. Participants can choose between a 5k and 10k, as well as Pretty Muddy obstacle courses. There are kids’ events too.
● To find out about local events in your area and help beat cancer – CLICK HERE
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