Diane Cooke talks to Danielle Smith, 24, who will lead the field at this year’s Race for Life

WHEN teacher Danielle Smith leads the Blackburn Race For Life at Witton Park in June she will represent a proud symbol of courage for female cancer sufferers.

At just 24, she is battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and will find out in July what her long-term future holds.

“It’s an honour to lead the race,” she says. “I’ll probably only be fit enough to walk around but I’m determined to do it. The event is really important to me and I’d love it if loads of women in the area are inspired to sign up too.”

Danielle, from Blackburn, teaches at Holy Trinity School, Nelson, and lives with her parents Susan and Barrie and her 20-year-old sister Dominique in Blackburn.

She had been feeling under the weather for a long time prior to last year, but last summer she noticed a large lump on her neck.

“I was always getting infections, coughs and colds. I caught anything going, but I always assumed it was because I was working so closely with little children and picked up their bugs.”

She went to her GP who told her the lumps were infected cysts and was given two courses of antibiotics but was also referred to the ENT clinic at her local hospital.

“I had to wait for about six weeks for my appointment and in that time my body was a mess as I’d started to itch severely. I couldn’t sleep for itching and scratched until I bled.

“I started to think there was something seriously wrong with me and had also done a bit of Googling and realised some of my symptoms could be a sign of cancer. I managed to really scare myself.”

When Danielle went along to her appointment a registrar extracted fluid from the lump on her neck. She also had a camera inserted into her nose and throat and was told to return for a CT scan three weeks later. A week after that Danielle was told the original biopsy hadn’t worked and they were going to have to do another one, along with a further camera exploration.

“I just had an awful feeling that the news wasn’t going to be good. My Mum was with me and I told her that I thought this could be cancer but she just kept saying ‘It won’t be’ “But when I went back into the room. I could tell it wasn’t good. The doctor kept talking about lymphoma but I had no idea what that meant, so I asked him and he told me ‘you’ve got cancer.’ “Mum burst into tears and I just kept thinking about the worst case scenario. I was only 23 and thought I would die really young.”

Danielle was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was also told that in addition to the tumour in her neck, there was another 8cm tumour in her chest.

“I was devastated and thought there was no hope.”

Following her diagnosis Danielle underwent a soft tissue biopsy and began two cycles of chemotherapy at The Christie Hospital.

“The staff there have been amazing. I feel in very safe hands, but the chemo hit me really hard. The first five days afterwards I couldn’t get out of bed.

“I think my immune system had been pretty low for some time and this just wiped me out.

“Everyone was so supportive though. I couldn’t work because I’ve felt so ill but all the staff at school have been brilliant.”

At the same time as Danielle began her chemotherapy, her 85-year old grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and has since had an operation to remove part of his lung.

“He keeps saying he’s got to look after me and I keep saying the same thing about him.

“He’s doing really well and that spurs me on. Cancer has affected a lot of my family. My grandma and nana both died of this horrible disease. That’s why I really believe in raising funds for research into better cancer treatments.Things are looking good for me now thanks to the treatment I received. I feel I can finally start looking to the future and do all the things I had to put on hold when I was diagnosed, such as travelling to New York.”

Danielle is now undergoing a course of radiotherapy treatment and will take part in the Blackburn Race for Life event with her sister Dominique.

“My advice to anyone if they find a lump, is be pushy with your doctor. The sooner it’s diagnosed the better.”

5k Race for Life events will be held at Burnley’s Towneley Park on Sunday, June 15, and at Blackburn’s Witton Park on Wed, June 25.

To enter Race for Life visit www.raceforlife.org or call 0845 600 6050.