Student Faaiza Bashir was diagnosed with cancer at 18 when she was still at school and now wants to raise awareness of five symptoms that she says many young people are unaware of.

The 22-year-old from Barking is keen to encourage open conversations about cancer, which she said is often a taboo subject in Asian communities. 

So she has been working with the Teenage Cancer Trust to raise awareness for February 4 World Cancer Day about the five symptoms or signs to look out for. 

These are: lumps, bumps and swellings; unexplained tiredness; mole changes; persistent pain; and rapid weight loss.

Faaiza began having shoulder pain in 2020 and put it down to carrying too many books back and forth from school — but then lost weight rapidly and felt fatigued. 

“I didn’t realise these could be symptoms of cancer,” she said. “It was Ramadan and I was fasting every day. 

“I was fatigued, sleeping most of the day — but that wasn’t normal for me. I started feeling breathless and struggled going up the stairs.”

Barking and Dagenham Post: Faaiza on her last day of chemoFaaiza on her last day of chemo (Image: Teenage Cancer Trust)

She could only speak with a GP by phone because of the lockdown, and they diagnosed a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics. 

But her mother was sceptical and contacted her own GP to get Faaiza an appointment.

“The doctor couldn’t hear anything coming in or out of my right lung,” Faaiza recalls. “So she called for an ambulance.

“I had to go to A&E alone because of lockdown. It was quite scary not knowing what was going on, with the fear around Covid which was a lot for me at 18 to experience.”

Faaiza had fluid in her lung. A scan showed up a ‘mass’ in her chest that indicated lymphoma cancer. She had primary B-cell lymphoma.

Barking and Dagenham Post: Faaiza cancer-free at 22Faaiza cancer-free at 22 (Image: Bashir family)

“Had I been more aware I would have pushed for a GP appointment sooner and asked for scans,” Faaiza added.

“But cancer is taboo in Asian communities — it’s not talked about and isn’t visible.

“I hope being open and having been through cancer can encourage people to get support if they are worried about their health.”

She was treated at University College Hospital London where there is a Teenage Cancer Trust unit where young people can stay in comfortable surroundings with others of their own age.

They are supported by nurses and youth workers throughout their treatment.

Faazia had six rounds of chemo before she was finally told in 2021 that no cancer cells were detectable. She was free of cancer.

That September Faaiza was off to Cambridge University to study geography and is now in her final year. She said getting through cancer renewed her appreciation of life.