While I was enjoying my final year at London College of Fashion, I discovered a lump on my left side near my breast. Being terrified of anything medical, I tried to ignore it, thinking it would eventually disappear, but more lumps appeared.
My neck, armpits, and groin were all affected, causing constant pain. I had to make the difficult decision to drop out of university due to my inability to keep up with projects. As the lumps grew, the more comfortable I became.
Fighting through my anxiety and selective mutism, I finally managed to get the courage to go to the GP. She explained that I would need to go to the breast cancer clinic for a blood test and a biopsy. This made me panic as I have a severe phobia of needles. As the appointment ended, and I was walking out the door the GP shouted ‘You do have cancer so you must get to the clinic.’ I have never felt so scared.
As I was waiting to be referred to the breast cancer clinic in St Albans, the lumps in my armpits became so enlarged that I could not put my arms down naturally. It felt like I was carrying something under there. But this became unbearable with the persistent itching. My armpits felt like they were on fire 24 hours a day. No matter how much I itched or applied moisturiser, the itching would not stop.
The pain and achy sensation in my neck also worsened. I had lumps on both sides, and one huge lump on the back of my neck. The right side became so enlarged that I could not tell which part of my body was my face. I looked completely different and seeing myself like this was scary. I had no idea why these side effects were happening to me.
The most unpleasant part of the experience was having lumps in my groin and night sweats. The lump was the most painful! When sitting down my lump would get caught on my trousers and it felt like you had stabbed your toe on the door frame! The night sweats and itching on the other hand would keep me up all night and I would be constantly changing bed sheets. I was already struggling with fatigue, and now I couldn’t sleep well.
Eventually, I sought treatment at a breast cancer clinic, but my anxiety, needle phobia, and selective mutism took over my life for a year. I was in and out of hospital trying to get a biopsy. Each appointment was with a different doctor and no one could understand my anxiety and panic attacks. So I would be sent home each time, knowing there was no help.
Through my own research, I discovered it was possible to get a biopsy under anaesthesia and the doctors eventually agreed this was the appropriate path forward. During my biopsy, they discovered the lymph node was now the size of a golf ball and decided to remove it instead.
By this time, every lymph node was affected. With the results in, we learned it was stage 4b Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was then sent to the Macmillan Cancer Center at UCLH, where things got a lot better! The doctors and nurses were so kind and understood my phobia and selective mutism. I felt safe at last and knew if I did panic I would have the help I needed.