When Cassia Evans, now 19, developed anorexia aged seven she didn’t realise how serious her illness was until it killed her best friend Sophie Mazurek, 19…
Twirling across the dance hall, I caught sight of my thighs in the mirror and frowned.
Encased in flesh-coloured tights, they looked ugly and chubby.
I longed to go to the Royal Ballet School but it seemed out of my reach.
Who would take on a fat ballerina?
I was just seven years old but already I was obsessed with my weight.
Pushing spaghetti around my plate later that evening my mum Hilary, now 56, frowned.
‘Why aren’t you eating?’ she asked.
‘My stomach hurts,’ I mumbled. Mum frowned at my dad, Barrie now 59.
For the next three years, doctors gave me blood and ultrasound tests, trying to diagnose my stomach problem.
But there wasn’t one. I just didn’t want to eat.
By the time I was at secondary school I was eating a piece of bread and one milk drink each day. If I was weak, I ate half a biscuit too.
I was 4ft 8ins tall and weighed just two and a half stone.
In September 2009, I was in the library when I collapsed. The doctor referred me to a psychiatrist.
‘You’re anorexic,’ the psychiatrist said. ‘You need to go to hospital.’
I was referred to Hebden Lodge, a specialist eating disorder unit at Springfield Hospital, London.
The doctors had to tube feed me but my stomach wasn’t used to having anything inside it, so I was sick.
‘You’ll die unless you pull yourself together,’ the nurses warned me, trying to shock me back to health.
Lying in bed, I sobbed – I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me.
It took eight months for me to reach my target weight of five-and-a-half stone but I was finally discharged.
When I went back to school, the other kids would stare at me and whisper when I walked past.
‘Cassia has cancer,’ one girl said to another in the toilets, unaware I was already in a cubicle.
Being the subject of gossip destroyed the little confidence I had.
I began to self-harm, with glass, razor blades, biros, CD cases – anything I could get my hands on. The pain was a release.
By the time I started dating Adam, then 16, the anorexia had taken hold of me again.
By January 2005, aged 16, I weighed just four stone and was eating only half a can of chicken soup a day.
I was diagnosed with osteoporosis because my bones were so deprived of calcium.
In February 2005, I was admitted to another eating disorder unit, Huntercombe in Staffordshire (CORR), where the doctors prescribed a 2,000 calorie diet.
‘I’ll come to hospital to see you,’ Adam promised.
But a few weeks later he sent me a text message.
‘I can’t do this anymore,’ it said.
My illness had driven him away.
One evening, I went to the TV room and saw a slim blonde-haired girl.
‘What’s your name?’ she said when she saw me. ‘I’m Sophie Mazurek. How are you finding it?’
We began chatting and realised we had loads in common – a love of fashion, clothes and art.
It was so easy to talk to Sophie that for a moment I felt like I was normal – not banged up inside an eating disorder clinic.
In late June 2006, 18 months after we first met, Sophie reached her target weight and returned to her home in Powys, Wales.
Six weeks later, the hospital released me and I went home to Nottingham.
Sophie and I were ready to begin the rest of our lives.
We spoke every day but as the weeks passed, she grew sad.
As we chatted on the phone about school and boys Sophie became distant and reserved.
I knew something wasn’t right, but didn’t want to push her for answers.
One day in December 2006, Sophie’s mum, Rosalind Ponomarenko-Jones, called me.
‘Sophie’s been taken into hospital,’ she said.
My heart sank. The anorexia had struck again.
Just a few days later a friend from Huntercoombe, Sarah, now 20, called.
‘Have you seen the email?’ she asked, her voice wobbly.
Ros had sent Sophie’s friends an email to say Sophie had died.
The anorexia had won.
On 30th December I went to Sophie’s funeral, held at a church in Powys.
Tears rolled down my face as I listened to her favourite songs – Gary Jules’s ‘Mad World’ and James Morrison’s ‘Wonderful World’ – being played.
A few days later, I caught sight of a photo of Sophie that I kept on my desk.
I felt a pang of sadness but realised that Sophie had died from anorexia and she wouldn’t want it to get me.
With my new determination I started to eat, fighting the urge to vomit.
It was hard work but one day a card arrived from Sophie’s mum.
‘You can do it,’ it said. I was determined to fight it – for Sophie.
I’ve been through hell but now I’m a better person. I’m outgoing and love meeting new people. I’ve started studying occupational therapy at York St John’s University and the future looks bright.
I’ll never forget Sophie. Anorexia snatched her away from me, but I’ll always remember her. She saved my life.
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Hilz