Cancer: Medical student's online TikTok diary

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'I broke my cancer news over TikTok'

A medical student who has been diagnosed with cancer is documenting her journey on TikTok.

Eleri Reece-Jones, 21, from Rhuallt in Denbighshire, was diagnosed last month with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and is due to start chemotherapy on 18 February.

She decided to share her story on the TikTok social media platform and has since been watched hundreds of thousands of times.

She said the response has been "really overwhelming".

The Cardiff University medical school student, currently completing a sports science degree at Bangor University, was initially told that the lumps she felt in her neck were because of glandular fever.

"By December, I was thinking this definitely isn't normal. And I think that was probably my medical knowledge that you're: 'I need to go and get this checked again, because I'm not happy with it'."

When she got her diagnosis she said she "struggled" but has tried to make it a positive experience for herself and others to share.

"I had the app and I was a long-time stalker on there... I've never really posted anything myself," she said.

"The response has been really overwhelming, I didn't realise how kind people are, everyone is affected by cancer or a hard time, and it's just shown a real sense of community in the comments."

The TikTok app has more than one billion users, who create and share short videos on the platform.

'Breaking the bad news'

Image source, Eleri Reece-Jones
Image caption,
Eleri was initially told the lumps in her neck were from glandular fever

Eleri said a big part of of starting to make the videos was to "break the news" to people.

"I didn't really know how to break the bad news, because it is bad news but it's your bad news. It can be really hard to tell your friends, people that you know and people that you wouldn't necessarily talk to. So I thought that by making a video, then everyone would find out and find out on their own terms."

"Since the first video is really big - the response is really overwhelming - I just thought, well I'll carry on making them.

"Having any kind of illness can actually be really lonely, you can feel isolated, but everyone's going through a hard time and we don't realise the difficult cards that people have been dealt.

"The comments on the videos and just seeing people's response, it makes you really realise that you're really not alone and people are just so kind.

"I think it's been people being like 'I'm in the same situation' or 'I know someone in the same situation' that's probably been really moving, or just people saying 'I'm proud of you' and I'm thinking, you're a complete stranger to me and that means so much to me, like you'll have no idea how much that's made my day."

She added that the positive tone to her videos is a "conscious decision".

"When I first found out I definitely was upset and struggled with it for a couple of days and I just thought everyone's going through a hard time and I've got to make this easier for myself, so I'm just going to try and be as happy as I can to find some kind of benefit in this. I've already seen so many positives."

She added she is "just taking it a day as it comes for now" as she prepares for treatment.

'Full circle'

Image source, Eleri Reece-Jones
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Eleri Reece-Jones decided to "break the bad news" on TikTok, but the positive response has kept her online

One aspect Eleri wants to share online is cutting her hair and donating it to The Little Princess Trust, which she said feels like "coming full circle".

As the charity provides wigs to people under 24 who have lost their hair to cancer, Eleri will receive one when she undergoes chemotherapy.

She will be having her hair cut next week and is waiting for special permission from the council for her usual hairdresser to be allowed to do it during Covid.

"I think that probably the hardest bit about it is coming to accept that I'm gonna lose my hair. And it's taken a while for me to be like, just to think, my hair isn't my personality, it's not who I am, and the people who love me and kind to me, they're still gonna love me whether I have hair or not."

'Doctor' to patient

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Changing from medical student on placement to being a patient has been strange for the 21-year-old

Eleri, who has found it "very strange" to change from the role of medical student to patient, hopes her videos can encourage others to visit their GP if they have cancer symptoms.

Having already lost her grandmother to bowel cancer last year, Eleri said it has been "a really hard time" for her and her family.

"It's a hard time but I think we just tried to make the most out of everything and just enjoy the things that we can enjoy."