When it comes to unforgettable moments, Oliver Samuals is an expert. He remembers the August of 2013, and the months that followed, as if they were yesterday. It was the part of his life when time stopped, but his determination and strength never did. Becky Lancashire speaks to him about his epic journey: from sufferer to survivor.
Emptily, he sat there. His palms full of sweat. His mother beside him, as always, was occupied with anxious tensions. She glanced at her son, though his fixed, unfeeling stare completely contrasted the flurry of roller-coaster emotions she now felt. You wouldn’t even need a knife to cut the silence in the room. The doctor re-entered, his head hung. With each step, he failed to meet the eager eye contact of the two people in the world who deserved it most. “You were right”, he said. “It is cancer”.
Guessing correctly that you had in fact become a sufferer of such an awful disease isn’t exactly something you can be happy about, but for now 21-year-old Oliver Samuals, this news was the relieving end to one awful journey, and the hopeful beginning of another. The moment when his now serious condition would finally be recognised. The beginning of what he described as his “intimate apocalypse”.
Though the second year of university was approaching fast, the end of the summer meant that one talented drama student from The University of Lincoln was to be hit by the most heart-breaking discovery. In August 2013, Oliver found a lump on his right testicle.
He says: “I was confused, frightened and unsure of what to do next.
“I knew I should tell my mum, but just a week before my sister had found a lump on one of her breasts, so I didn’t want to make her worry more”.
Luckily, it was discovered that his sister’s circumstance was a cyst and therefore nothing that would seriously impact her life, but Oliver’s gut feeling told him that his condition was not the same.
Due to his age, doctors disregarded the chances that this may be the onset of testicular cancer, as this more commonly affects men above the age of 30.
After six months of investigations and scans, the doctors finally realised their errors in missing obvious signs – something no cancer sufferer should ever have to endure.
He says: “At that point I was offered the choice of medication or an operation to have the lump removed. I was scared so I opted for surgery in case the worst came to the worst. It’s a good job I did.”
On February 27 2014, Oliver was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was then moved between hospitals in Nottingham and Lincoln to receive treatment.
A rocky bullying-filled childhood in his home town Leicester meant that, for a long time, Oliver had felt alone, but the loyal friends he met at university stood by him throughout his endeavour, although he admits that these close relationships made it an even greater challenge to break the news.
He says: “I always thought if it happened I’d tell all of my friends, but when it actually happens to you it’s not that easy.
“When I eventually told them it was weird because they were more upset than I was.
“They all just stood and cried in front of me, but I didn’t cry throughout my whole treatment. “After getting diagnosed, you just feel empty.”
Despite the incidences of testicular cancer more than doubling in Britain since the 1970’s, the introduction of combination chemotherapy in the same era meant that survival for this specific type of cancer has risen continuously, and current rates are 98 per cent. When Oliver started his chemotherapy, these statistics were comforting to him.
He says: “I thought that so many people have survived this thing before, so I will too.”
While the cancer journey had been everything but smooth so far for Oliver, he now knew that he was on his way to a brighter future, but that wouldn’t be without more trials and tribulations along the way.
He says: “After my first cycle of chemotherapy I felt fine, even though my mum warned me it would soon hit me.
“After the second cycle, it did hit me hard. I had no immune system so I had to drop out of University for that year, and of course I started to lose my hair which was a weird feeling.
“I couldn’t work, I couldn’t walk – I couldn’t do anything”.
Oliver’s main aim however was to stay brave and keep smiling throughout the whole process, with his love for acting and being on the stage pulling him through.
After getting the long-awaited all clear last June, Oliver now reflects on how much he has learnt on his turbulent journey, and continues to prove that he will not let cancer defeat him.
He says: “Being diagnosed with something that can take your life away and surviving it is such an achievement.
“It makes you wonder if anything you do in your life will top beating cancer, but whatever opportunities I’m given now I know I have to take.”
Following his life-changing experience, Oliver says his family, who were once disjointed and distant are much closer, something he feels grateful for.
After his degree, Oliver plans to move to Edinburgh where he will open his own theatre company, and is even in the process of writing several comedy plays about cancer. He says that humour has always been a good coping mechanism for him.
Although one of the life-long side effects of his chemotherapy means that Oliver can no longer be given artificial oxygen, he knows this will not stop him living his life to the full.
He says: “It would have been nice to do some of the things that require artificial oxygen, like Scuba Diving, but that’s fine.
“I’m lucky. I’m alive. That’s all that matters.”