September is Lymphoma Awareness Month. It covers both types of lymphoma (Hogkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s). Personally, I was diagnosed with Hogkin’s Lymphoma at age twenty-four and am currently awaiting to see if I’m in remission or not. I’m twenty-five. Never in a million years did I think I would get cancer, espicially at such a young age.
For me, my symptoms were: shortness of breath, mild nausea, chest pains, and a chronic cough that sounded like I had been smoking ten packs of cigarettes everyday for all of my life (despite never touching tobacco in my life). I was misdiagnosed with acid reflux shortly after I completed treatment for a bacterial infection of my stomach. Despite having medicine that was supposed to treat the acid reflux, I felt like the medicine just was not doing what it was supposed to be doing. I happened to change my primary care doctor around this time, let him know what was happening and got an x-ray ordered. I was then ordered to get a CT scan. The doctor sat me down, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I don’t see how this can’t be cancer because of how quickly this came about. I’m going to refer you to an oncologist” (doctor that specializes in cancer) “and we will get this before it gets worse”. Two lung biopsies later, I was given the diagnosis of “Hogkin’s Lymphoma Stage 2, unfavorable”. I started chemotherapy immediatly (once every two weeks for about six months), waited about a month, and then I did about two and a half weeks of radiation (once a day for five days a week).
In America, we don’t hear about cancer normally unless it’s associated with obesity, smoking, and/or old age (and/or a family history). A young person (as in a person in their twenties or younger) rarely, if ever thinks about the dreaded “c” word. It is because we paint cancer as something associated with the traits I just mentioned above. However, for this specific type of blood cancer (since that’s what lymphoma is officially classified as), it most often “hits” people in their teens or twenties, or around the geritatric age (60s or older).
The tricky thing about lymphoma (at least with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, unsure about Non-Hogkin’s) is the fact that often times, people report “I had normal bloodwork around the time I was diagnosed” meaning from a biochemistry point of view, their bloodwork looked relatively normal (if something was “off”, it was one or two things and were considered relatively minor).
The Mayo clinic lists the following signs and symptoms as being associated with early detection for Hogkin’s Lymphoma:
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin.
- Persistent fatigue.
- Night sweats.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Severe itching.
- Increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol or pain in your lymph nodes after drinking alcohol.
For me, I never had swollen lymph nodes. I have honestly never noticed lymph node swelling in my life (granted I could be oblivious, but regardless). Some people do not have any of these symptoms but go to the doctor because they feel like “something is not quite right”. For that reason, it is very important to at least get a chest x-ray done (some kind of imaging test) to see if something is not right. The chest x-ray could reveal something that will make your doctor want to do further testing (like a CT scan).
Trust your body. You know when something ‘is just not right’. If the doctor you go to says you’re “over reacting”, find a different doctor (and make a formal complaint about the doctor to their administration because that kind of attitude can kill someone).
My doctor flat out told me “If you waited another month to see me because of these symptoms, there is a strong chance that you wouldn’t have made it. You would have felt like you could not breathe, fallen over and/or passed out, and then would have woken up on a ventilator in the ER because of where the tumor is in your chest” (it was lodged between my windpipe and heart, and actually displaced my heart for reference point) “and how rapidly it grew in your chest”.
The American Cancer Society has a fantastic article on Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for those interested: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin-lymphoma/about/what-is-hodgkin-disease.html