Although the tree was up and she was finishing off her shopping, Fiona Casely was struggling to think about Christmas.
For a few weeks, she had been feeling incredibly tired and run down.
She was in her final year of school so she thought it was just because it was a busy time of year.
But after repeated trips to the doctor, just four days before Christmas Day, she was told she was actually seriously ill, completely changing her love of the festive season.
Now recovered and two years on from her diagnosis, Fiona has given up Christmas because she says just hearing a festive song causes a knot in her stomach.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘My doctor sent me for a chest x-ray but they thought I had glandular fever or something.
‘When the results came back, they called me straight away and said my heart was very, very large.
‘I was told I basically had to get to hospital straight away.’
As Fiona and her family live on Orkney, an island off the north coast of Scotland, she had to be flown by air ambulance to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
There, she was taken for emergency surgery, where they drained nearly two litres of fluid from around her heart.
The following day they did a biopsy as they said they believed she had cancer and they needed to find out which type it was.
Fiona was told she was too ill to go home for Christmas and she had to spend it in hospital.
Although her parents and brother were able to stay with her, she was devastated about being away from the rest of her family, particularly her grandparents back in Orkney.
She says: ‘It was gutting because I was so excited about Christmas. I was in the middle of preparing a memory book for my mum and dad but I never got to finish that.
‘Spending Christmas in Aberdeen didn’t feel like Christmas at all. We were able to leave the ward to go out for a Christmas dinner but I didn’t enjoy that any more that I would have if I had just been in the hospital.
‘It was just another environment that I was thrown into because of cancer. That felt really weird and uncomfortable.
‘It wasn’t our Christmas at all. I just wanted my Granny’s roast dinner and everything our family normally did.’
On 29 December 2017, Fiona was told she had Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and glands throughout the body.
That day, she started chemotherapy to try to treat the cancer. She was allowed home on 6 January but her family had removed all traces of Christmas because of what she missed.
After six weeks, Fiona was told that the treatment wasn’t working and that she would need more intense chemotherapy.
She says that at that time, it was support from nurses funded by the Teenage Cancer Trust that helped.
‘When they told me, I was on the bathroom floor, crying for about two hours and my nurses were just there to help me.
‘They were such an amazing support throughout everything. They were always checking in on me and I had their phone numbers so I could contact them if I needed any help or advice.
‘I was so lucky to have them and I wish that all young people going through cancer had that same support.’
Fiona started the more intense treatment, which made her ill and she quickly lost her hair. She also struggled with pain throughout and had to spend all her time going between Orkney and Aberdeen.
But on 12 June 2018, she was told that she was in remission and she started to rebuild her life.
It took her time to regain her strength but last year she started studying at Robert Gordon University and living in Aberdeen – a city she knows well after having her treatment there.
Although Fiona has now recovered physically from her treatment, she says that it has had a huge impact on her mental health.
She says: ‘I am a lot more anxious than I used to be. I was isolated for so long and struggled going back into social environments again.
‘I’ve become very paranoid about my health and am constantly checking to see if something is wrong.’
For Fiona, one of the biggest problems is dealing with Christmas and the memories it brings of her diagnosis.
Her family don’t decorate their house anymore and she hates anything festive.
She adds: ‘It’s just not what it used to be. Right now it just reminds of us that time. We do hope that in the future we can do Christmas differently and build new traditions but right now, two years on, it is very difficult.’
This year, she is travelling to Australia to stay with her aunt and uncle and she hopes it will change her feelings about this time of year.
She says: ‘My Aunt and Uncle live in Australia and, this year, they have invited me over for Christmas. As soon as they asked, I jumped at the opportunity to go over and visit them.
‘I’m looking forward to doing something different, not what Christmas stereotypically is.
‘My family are really excited for me, I wish I could be with them all but I think they understand why I want to go.
‘As a family we don’t care too much about Christmas any more.
‘It’s quite exciting going to Australia, I feel a bit rebellious because people wouldn’t expect it at Christmas.’
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