I had never heard of lymphoma before I was diagnosed in June 2022. I didn't even realise it was a blood cancer until further into my diagnosis.
At first, I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms of lymphoma, like night sweats or itchy skin. Looking back, the only thing that perhaps I did experience was fatigue but even then it felt nothing more than just day- to- day life making me feel a bit tired. But in May 2022, when getting ready for work, I noticed in the mirror that my collarbone looked fuller than usual, and when I touched my neck I felt a large lump on one side. It wasn’t painful, but it was hard, so I thought it best to book an appointment with my GP. From there, they referred me to the hospital which I am really grateful for, as it turned out the swelling in my neck was a secondary lump, and that I had a larger mass on my chest. I would never have known that if it wasn’t for that referral.
I then had a PET CT-scan and a biopsy which confirmed a diagnosis of stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. It was a really emotional time – to be told that I had cancer, which would be treated which chemotherapy. I was told the treatment would mean I was going to lose my hair and that there was a chance it could make me infertile. All of this was really hard for me to digest. We were given a Lymphoma Action information book at the hospital which my mum read and found a lot of comfort from. For me it was important that I carried on with life as normal to the best of my ability. With a good prognosis, I felt I had to treat it like a bump in the road that I was soon going to get over and believe in myself that I could do it.
After a short trip away to Portugal, which was a great chance to have a break from it all and process everything, I started a round of fertility preservation. This proved to be a real challenge, as I had a contraceptive implant. Obviously under ‘normal’ circumstances, they wouldn’t go ahead with the process so quickly, but because I had to start chemotherapy as soon as possible, I had only one chance to go for it. I had some hormone treatment to stimulate my eggs to grow, which was really quite uncomfortable and in the end they could only freeze one of my eggs. It was a really emotional time and I felt disappointed to only have one egg after such an unpleasant experience. My hope now is that the treatment hasn’t affected by fertility and this preservation won’t be needed.
I started chemotherapy at the end of July 2022, and looking back it is all a bit of a blur. My mum came with me to every session and we tried to make the most of it by watching TV shows and eating snacks when I felt up to it. But most of the time, I would just sleep. Initially I received my chemotherapy through a canula in my hand, but after a while my veins collapsed and I switched to having a PICC line, which was much easier.
Losing my hair was the hardest thing for me during treatment. It’s part of my identity, and I felt like I lost my confidence when I lost my hair. For me, it was something that no one could prepare me for mentally. It just changes the way you look completely. I also struggled with sickness. Even the smell of my mum’s car on the way to my treatment appointments would make me feel sick but I think that part was psychological and the anxiety of it all - but it still affected me for a while even after my treatment had finished.
I completed my course of chemotherapy in February 2023 and now, six months on, I feel a lot more like myself and that my spark for life is back again. My hair started to grow back at the beginning of the year which was a big relief, and now it has just gone crazy! It’s curly now and a lot thicker than it was before my diagnosis, and it’s coming through really dark as well! I have also recently completed my CPID Human resources qualification which I started before I was diagnosed. I refused to let cancer take over my life, and I was determined to complete it. Now I am looking forward to my graduation next year. I am also proud to have held some fundraising events for Lymphoma Action, knowing that they will help to support more people affected by lymphoma.
You never think it is going to be you and a lot of my friends have said to me that my experience has taught them to be a lot more vigilant. If there's one thing I can take out of this experience, it's being able to make people aware as I didn't know what lymphoma was and what to look out for. That’s why I feel it is so important for me to share my story to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of lymphoma – particularly in younger people who, like myself, may not have even heard of it before.
Watch Georgia talk about her experience with lymphoma
Georgia shared her story with us as part of our Let’s talk lymphoma awareness campaign which ran throughout Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September.