16 July 2020

My Life Now - meet Alex

It’s been 18 years since the Trust first set sail – what are the young people who have been on trips up to now? Our 'My Life Now' series shows a positive future after cancer is a reality. The Trust played a crucial role in Alex Denley's recovery and confirmed his decision to study medicine and pursue his goal of becoming a doctor.

Name Alex Denley

Age 22

Diagnosis/year: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) in 2007

When you first sailed with the Trust?

I first sailed with the Trust in 2012 and I now volunteer on the trips.

What you do now?

I am a first-year medical student studying at St George’s, University of London

Explain what that means?

I am currently learning the fundamental science behind modern medicine. This involves learning how the body works, why we become unwell and what we can do to restore health.

Why did you do want to do this?

In coming years, I will be able to put this knowledge to practice helping real patients in a clinical setting, such as in a hospital or a GP surgery. This means that (hopefully) in 5 years’ time I will graduate as a doctor and ultimately use this training to become a paediatrician.

What's the coolest thing you've done lately?

I was fortunate enough over the New Year to be able to join my university ski trip in the French Alps. By the end of the week I managed to complete the hardest runs – even if I did slide down on my back some of the way… I found this particularly cool because it is something that I would never have dreamt I was capable of doing 10 years ago, whilst undergoing treatment.

Why did you need the Trust's support in recovery?

Whilst I was going through treatment, I very rarely shared my experiences with my friends at school, to such a point that some of my friends didn’t even know that I had cancer. I felt that they would never be able relate to what I was going through and I was scared that I would be treated differently because of it – both positively and negatively. Not only did my confidence take a huge knock, but I found myself feeling self-conscious about how people perceived me.

However, from my very first trip I realised that I wasn’t alone. There WERE people that can relate to what I have been through. Not only was I on a boat with five other young people recovering from cancer but the volunteer and the mate had also recovered from the same cancer that I had. Suddenly the stigma I felt disappeared. That first trip alone gave me the opportunity I desperately needed to talk through my experiences of cancer, and very quickly I regained my confidence.

The Trust trips became an annual safe haven for me, giving me the opportunity to share in a judgement-free environment and regaining something I had lost out on. Finally, I was able to do the activities that I had missed out on and I could be a child again.

Where else can you ask someone “Did you get pink wee too?” (and the answer be yes!)

What part has the Trust played in you doing what you are now?

The Trust has played a crucial role in what I do now. Not only did it help me regain my confidence during recovery, but it also gave me the opportunity to learn more about a career in medicine, through talking to the doctors and nurses on the trips. As a graduate volunteer, I was able to gain enough experience working with children in a caring environment to get a job as a Paediatric Healthcare Assistant. These experiences confirmed my choice of career and I was I was able to secure a place to study medicine this year.

What's your top tip for a young person interested in studying for a medical degree.

Your experience gives you the potential to be a great doctor. Understanding what it is like to be a patient gives you a unique perspective of medicine and the healthcare system, allowing you to empathise with future patients. If you want to study medicine: reflect on what it is in particular that brought you to this conclusion, work hard, gain relevant experience and reflect on what you gained from it, and most importantly don’t give up!