By Alyce Collins
AFTER being diagnosed with cancer at just SEVEN-years-old, years of treatment meant this woman missed out on her childhood, as she had to have over 100 stitches removed from her abdomen one by one – leaving her with a permanent seven-and-a-half-inch scar stretching her stomach which she now fully embraces in a bikini.
Market researcher, Bryden Banister (30) from Tennessee, USA, went through months of pain before doctors diagnosed her with nephroblastoma after finding a tumour the size of a small football on her kidney, aged just seven-years-old.
After her shocking diagnosis at such a young age, Bryden and her family faced a very testing few months as she endured multiple surgeries and months of treatment, so that she could enjoy a regular childhood once again.
Bryden had to have immediate surgery to remove her left kidney and her appendix where the cancer was located, before having six months of intensive treatment in hospital. Facing such a battle at such a young age meant Bryden had to miss out on plenty of childhood pastimes while she was treated, including giving up sports and playing with friends.
Now, enjoying 17 years of being cancer free, Bryden is embracing the life she was supposed to live as she hikes up mountains, jumps off waterfalls and now swimming competitively.
“After several months of not being able to find out what was wrong, doctors finally found a tumour the size of a football on my kidney in 1995 when I was seven,” said Bryden.
“I was then diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, or nephroblastoma.
“At first it was survival mode, but ultimately it was our friends, family and faith that kept us going. My dad is a pastor and our church took care of us. We survived thanks to our community.
“Before the surgery they had to remove two litres of fluid from my lungs, then I had two surgeries.
“After finding the tumour, they immediately took me into surgery to remove my left kidney as well as my appendix, and then I had another surgery to put in a port to administer treatments.
“The only thing I remember from this surgery was that afterwards they had to remove over 100 stitches across my abdomen one by one, which hurt a lot.
“After surgery I had to have eight weeks of radiation, then six months of chemotherapy. Once this was all complete, I had another surgery to remove the port.
“I completed my treatment in the May of 1996 and am cancer free to this day, I’m very thankful.”
Due to her weak state of health, Bryden was forced to give up all of her favourite contact sports and she wasn’t able to live like a regular carefree child. For the five years after her diagnosis, Bryden’s life was dictated by being cautious around other children and not letting herself get sick.
This lack of a childhood made Bryden resentful for a long time because there was a lot she missed out on which has had long-term effects. However, now 30, Bryden is embracing everything that she was never able to do as a child as she relishes being fortunate enough to have survived.
“For a long time, I used to get frustrated or have resentment because it wasn’t fair,” she said.
“Because I got sick so young, I missed out on a few critical years of being a kid. I think life got way too serious way too fast for me. I didn’t get to be a naïve, carefree child.
“For five years we had to be hypervigilant because I got sick much easier than other kids and I wasn’t allowed to do anything I have once loved doing.
“I had to cut out high contact sports, including my love for football and gymnastics. Those types of activities were no longer allowed to be a part of my lifestyle.
“I used to think why me? Why did this happen? But now, I have been able to see it as a part of my story. I survived, and I have gone on to do things I was told I would never do again.
“I have hiked to the tops of mountains, jumped of waterfalls, participated in contact activities and competed in swimming competitions. I have defied the odds and I am a survivor – that’s pretty amazing. I let those things be what defines me now.”
Although she has been cancer-free for over 17 years now, Bryden is still facing the mental recovery from the battle she fought. Her body has recovered to its maximum, but the years of treatment have taken their toll as the radiation impacted her muscle quite drastically.
Despite this, Bryden is more positive than ever as she is now able to exercise up to four times a week and work out in the gym, something she never thought would be possible.
“I am still dealing with recovery and the side effects now,” added Bryden.
“Immediately after surgery, the most difficult part was the chemotherapy, constantly being sick for six months and being unable to spend time with a lot of people.
“In the hospital I wasn’t allowed to eat for two weeks and was stuck to a feeding tube, but all my friends and family who visited were able to eat my food basket, which upset me at the time as I was so young.
“Now I deal with the long-term issues, such as muscle dystrophy, nerve damage and back problems as the radiation did a lot of damage to my muscle tissue.
“I am very thankful to have lived as much life as I have, especially since the odds were uncertain.
“Sports are my release, my outlet and my therapy. I take all of my frustrations and stress out when I’m at the gym or in the swimming pool. They’re such important parts of my life.
“I am literally addicted to how I feel when I finish a good workout. I am continuing to push myself at 30, and I hope that never stops.
“I love challenging myself – this season it’s open water swimming so who knows what I’ll be able to take on next, but I’m excited to see what the future has in store.
“Now I swim about three times a week for 75-minutes, and then I try and do Pilates or other strengthening exercises once or twice a week for an hour. I also take my dog for two-and-a-half mile walks which helps me too.
“Life is never what you expect but remain hopeful and stay positive. If you can’t get to that point, get the help you need to get there.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without a great therapist and some amazing friends and family who have walked through the ups and downs of life with me.
“Whatever you do, surround yourself with people who believe in you, even when you don’t because it makes all the difference in the world.”
To find out more about Bryden’s inspirational recovery, you can visit her Instagram @brydenbanister.