28 Aug 2019

Yasmin’s Hodgkin lymphoma story

When Yasmin was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma three years ago, she felt anxious about the months of treatment ahead. But now, with a fresh outlook on life and having just got married, she shares her inspiring story

I was 25 when I first discovered a lump on my neck. I’d just started my first job as a primary school teacher, I’d been experiencing back pain and had lost six kilos in six months. But I put it down to stress and put off going to the doctor until I woke up with a lump on my neck the size of a tennis ball and realised something was seriously wrong.

I made an appointment with my doctor, but he just gave me antibiotics and didn’t listen to my concerns. I returned a few days later because I’d felt a lump on my chest and he actually laughed at me.

So I went to another doctor who agreed to send me for a cancer scan, and they operated to take a biopsy from my lump.

Receiving my diagnosis

It was a really anxious time while I was waiting for the results, so being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma was almost a relief as the uncertainty was over.

I was obviously really upset at first and spent most of that first day crying. But after that, I decided I had to take steps to deal with what was to come.

I wanted to feel like I still had some control and show cancer, even in a tiny way, who was boss, so I asked a friend to shave my hair off. I had really thick curly hair and everyone thought I’d be worried about losing it, but actually that never bothered me. I was more scared at the thought of all those needles during chemotherapy.

Starting my treatment

At the beginning, the chemotherapy took ages. I’d start at 9am and it wouldn’t finish until about 5.30pm. They sometimes have to dilute it, which takes even longer. The last drug they give you actually constricts your veins and gives you a burning sensation.

After the third chemotherapy session it became harder to find my vein so I had a PICC line put in (a tube which is inserted into a vein on an arm, leg or neck to make long-term treatments more comfortable) which sped things up. That helped me with my fear of needles, which was really upsetting me.

I had 12 sessions of chemotherapy, once every fortnight. I kept a chart of these sessions in my bedroom and would cross them off and keep reminding myself that I only had a few more to go. I didn’t vomit, but I did feel really dizzy all the time and spent a lot of time in bed. I didn’t want to do much.

My work was really supportive when I had to stop, but as I hadn’t been there very long I only got half pay, so had to apply for a Personal Independence Payment.

I also received a grant of £300 from Leukaemia UK’s Helping Hand Fund, which I’m really grateful for as it helped me to be able to afford to pay for the taxis to and from my appointments.

Facing my treatment challenges

I found there were times when I’d just had enough and it was hard to stay positive. You don’t want to see another nurse, and the smell of the hospital made me feel sick. When I smell the saline I use for my contact lenses it still reminds me of my chemo sessions.

For me, one of the worst things was that I put on a lot of weight and felt very bloated from the steroids. I wasn’t able to do much exercise and my metabolism seemed to slow down. It was really frustrating as I’d look in the mirror and not see myself. I felt it was out of my control.

I love art, so I bought some water colours which really helped me mentally during my treatment. Everyone’s got something they want to do but haven’t got the time to do it, so this is the time to try it.

Enjoying life after treatment

When I finished my chemotherapy in October 2017 it felt so good to be through that. I felt so free and able to focus on what I could do to keep myself well and busy.

It was great to feel in control of my life again. During treatment, for example, I had looked forward to growing my hair back, but I’ve actually decided to keep it short since. It feels like part of the new me.

I gained two stone during my treatment and couldn’t wait to start getting into a routine to lose this extra weight. Having the ability and freedom to go to the gym has helped me lose it and this exercise has really helped my mental health.

In March 2018 I went back to work. My employers were really supportive and helped me with a phased plan to return as a supply teacher, which meant I wasn’t doing too much too soon. I felt ready to go back full-time in September 2018 and I’m really enjoying this.

I was also keen to have a big holiday, so in the summer of 2018 I went to Miami with my sister and stayed with family for two weeks. I felt so rested after that!

In the past I used to get so stressed, but following my treatment I don’t stress about the little things anymore. I now I realise health is the most important thing in life – my diagnosis has really changed my perspective. I make plenty of time to do things that help my mental health, such as going to the gym and eating healthily. For me, I realised it’s about having the right balance in life.

This is an exciting time for me right now. In February I got engaged and had my wedding in July. I also just bought my first flat.

My advice for others

My advice to anyone going through what I’ve been through is to be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to other people because everybody’s experience of cancer and treatment is different.

It can get annoying when people tell you to “stay strong”, but honestly, keeping busy, keeping your mind active and trying to stay positive really does help, because if you look at things negatively you can get to a dark place very quickly.

Looking back on my diagnosis, having gone through something so life-changing has stopped me taking anything for granted and made me appreciate my health. I feel happier as a result.

We’re really grateful to Yasmin for telling her story and wish her all the very best for her future.

You can help Leukaemia UK continue to support people like Yasmin by donating to our cause.

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