Earlier this year, Leicestershire teen Kiya Kanani was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma after finding a lump on her neck. After her school cancelled their annual prom due to pandemic restrictions, Kiya decided to organise the prom herself, with the help of family, friends and the local community.
“We’ve had a tough year because of covid and our year had a lot of covid outbreaks. So most of the time, half of our year wasn’t even in school.
“The school said that we didn’t have enough time to plan a prom so everyone wanted to do something to get together. So I thought ‘why don’t we just plan it ourselves’,?” explains Kiya.
After hearing the teen was trying to put together the event, a local event planner and suppliers pulled together to organise a night to remember.
“Everyone had a great time, it was nice seeing everyone after so long. It was a good final goodbye,” says Kiya when remembering the night.
Explaining the events that led to her getting her cancer diagnosis, Kiya says:
“I had a lump on my neck, I didn’t think anything of it at first but it was there for quite a while. After a while we decided to go to the doctor.”
Kiya was given antibiotics but after the lump failed to reduce in size, she was admitted to hospital. It was here, following a series of biopsies that Kiya received her diagnosis in April 2021. She had stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. On the moment of being diagnosed, Kiya says.
“I just kind of prepared myself for both outcomes so then when I went in [and received the diagnosis] I was like ‘ok that’s fine, you just need to focus on whatever the doctors tell you to do next'”.
Stunningly, the brave teen even completed a GCSE exam on the same day she received her diagnosis. “That was kind of the one thing that was like OK […] you’ve got a GCSE exam so you need to focus on that, instead of focusing on ‘you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer’ so that was kind of […] something that occupied me while I was in that room,” explains the 16-year old.
Following treatment, Kiya began to lose her hair and was given a wig by the Little Princess Trust, a charity which provides real hair wigs, free of charge, to children and young people who have lost their own hair through cancer treatment and other conditions. In a strange twist of fate, Kiya had donated her hair to the charity prior to receiving her own diagnosis.
“A few years before [donating] my grandad had been diagnosed with leukaemia and my auntie donated her hair to the Little Princess Trust because of that so I thought ‘well, I usually cut a lot of hair off so I might as well grow it and give it to charity’,” Kiya explains of her decision.
When explaining what it meant to receive a wig, she says: “when I lost my hair, I felt very different, I didn’t feel like me. And obviously now being in that situation I know that there’s loads of other little girls, younger than me who’ve lost their hair. They must feel completely and utterly different.
“When I got my wig, I felt so much more confident and I felt like ‘Ok you’ve got your wig now, you can go out again, you can do normal things. You’re you again’.”
When discussing what else has got her through this tough time, Kiya says she’s received words of support from professional footballers both past and present including Liverpool full back Andy Robertson, Watford’s Joshua King and Champions League finalist Jermaine Pennant. On what it meant to receive their video messages, Kiya says: “I was shocked, completely shocked. I received those videos at the beginning of my chemotherapy, where I wasn’t feeling too great, so it really was a support booster.
“[Andy Robertson] said ‘you’ll never walk alone’, the Liverpool motto. It was a booster just to receive that video, it was amazing”.
As Kiya continues with treatment, she also has words of advice for others who are going through a tough time:
“Tell [everyone] exactly what you’re going through. Because sometimes you feel like you don’t have support, you’re on your own, but you have so many people and you don’t realise it until you actually speak out about it”.
The teen also hopes to inspire others to donate their hair to a wig charity and has been trying to raise awareness of rare cancers. As part of her efforts, Kiya has been fundraising for The Teenage Cancer Trust, The Little Princess Trust, Hope Against Cancer and Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia group. To support Kiya’s fundraising, click here.
By Gita Sarasia