Being a teenager is hard enough as it is. You’ve got hormones, high school, and social media to deal with. Imagine having to add cancer to that list.
Liz “Lizzy” Brown was diagnosed with a spinal tumour in 1989 after waking up paralysed on her 14th birthday. At the time she was given maximum five years to live, and spent four months having treatment on the children’s ward of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK.
While there, Liz met Debbie, a young nurse who endeavoured to make her stay in the hospital more bearable. She told jokes and gave Liz “silly jobs” to do to help her pass the time, not realising the profound effect she’d have on the young girl’s life.
Hoping to track down the kind nurse as an adult to thank her for she’d done, Liz put out an appeal on Twitter to see if anyone had any information on Debbie’s whereabouts. After 2000 retweets, Debbie, now 50, was finally found, and the pair have happily been reunited.
Debbie told the BBC that she was “really emotional” after discovering the online appeal, which was passed onto her by a friend who asked “is this you?”
She said: “I often wondered what happened to Lizzy. I was there when she was diagnosed. I knew she had been given roughly five years maximum to live and was struggling to walk again.”
Debbie now lives in Derbyshire, and was 21 when the photograph used in the appeal was taken. She says she has a scrapbook of her former patients, but had sadly lost the one of her a Liz.
“I enjoyed my job and did my job to the best I could, but didn’t feel like I had made that much impact on someone that 30 years later they could remember my name – it’s a bit overwhelming,” she continued.
“I just tried to make it home from home. We did bobbing apples and went on day trips. We even had nights where we took the kids to nurse’s flats and just had pizza and watched videos.”
Liz, now a mother-of-three, and Debbie have reconnected via Facebook, and plan to meet some time in the near future.
Liz said of finding her old friend: “I didn’t realise how important this was to me until now.”
“Debbie inspired me to go on to work with children as a sensory support assistant, and I think everything I have done is down to the way she realised that spirited, rebellious teenager was a real person, no matter what was wrong with her.”