Raveen first visited her GP in December 2017, as she had very itchy legs, and was told initially that she had scabies. She then sought a second opinion privately, where she was referred to a dermatologist. It was during this appointment that a lump was discovered on her neck, which turned out to be an enlarged lymph node. Thereafter, Raveen was referred to haematology and ultimately diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
'When I looked back, it all made sense. I’d been falling asleep on the train and getting loads of coughs and colds. My immune system was compromised by the lymphoma and the itchy legs and swollen lymph node were other known symptoms of the condition.'
Raveen began treatment in April 2018, but before she did, she faced a question she hadn’t foreseen. 'The doctors asked me if I wanted to freeze my eggs, because they couldn’t guarantee the treatment wouldn’t affect my fertility. I didn’t know what to do. It was bad enough to be told I had a form of blood cancer that needed immediate treatment. I suppose what I wanted was for the specialists to tell me what to do. I didn’t feel able to make such momentous decisions myself. My sister was brilliant and helped me write a pros and cons list. In the end I decided that, as the procedure to collect eggs wasn’t a straightforward one, and because the drugs in my initial cycles of chemo weren’t that strong, the chances of it adversely affecting my fertility weren’t high and so I wouldn’t freeze my eggs. If I had to have subsequent rounds of stronger chemo then I would re-think.'
That difficult decision made, Raveen now had to face chemotherapy. As part of her preparation, Raveen had her long hair cut to shoulder length. 'I’d always wanted short hair, but I was really worried about losing it altogether. I had two rounds of chemo each month, and by the second month it started to fall out. That’s a big thing for a 23-year-old female – I felt like I’d lost my identity. I didn’t eat on the days I had chemo but I was always sick. I found the whole thing so draining, it was dreadful. But there were positives to the experience - I had my family with me and my work were great. I was able to do project-based work from home, which was perfect during my treatment and whilst I was convalescing.'
One year on and Raveen is in remission. Her hair is starting to grow back (although she still wears a wig for now) but she finds the psychological scars take longer to heal.
'The aftermath of cancer is really hard to deal with. You’ve been wrapped in cotton wool for months, then suddenly you’re better – which is obviously great – but it feels like no-one cares any more. When I was told I was in remission, I remember feeling euphoric. I was very excited the whole day. But very soon afterwards I felt numb – and then I felt bad for feeling that way. You’re trying to adjust to the emotional impact of being ill, then being in remission, and it’s really hard. You experience such a range of emotions and it all feels a little like a dream.
I’m less scared now than I was at first, but I still fear a relapse. I get very out-of-breath because my immune system is still low. And because my initial symptoms were mainly non-specific, I panic when I feel poorly because I can’t help thinking ‘what if I’m relapsing? In between the moments of panic I do feel much more purposeful. My life was at a standstill and now I know there’s so much more I want to do and achieve. I go to the gym regularly because it keeps me fit and it’s good for my anxiety. It helps me feel stronger and more in control.
Now I volunteer with Lymphoma Action, as a member of their reader panel and as an Ambassador, spreading the word about the services they offer. Having been through this experience myself, I can really see how crucial those services can be to support people with the emotional side of living with or beyond lymphoma.I really appreciate how the charity values my own personal experience and enables me to use this to support others.'