IN THEIR WORDS

Anthony Zollinger

Hodgkin lymphoma at 19

I had just completed my first semester of college and was proud of earning a 3.8 GPA. I’d never had any serious illness, flu, pneumonia, never broke a bone and was always physically active on my bike or playing sports with my family.

In March 2016, I noticed a lump in my neck and went to the emergency room. The doctor diagnosed it as a cyst and prescribed antibiotics. My team at the ER recommended I follow up with a surgeon. I ignored that follow-up request – the lump went away when I took the antibiotics so I thought I was fine.

As 2016 was winding down I noticed more painless lumps in my neck. However I was enjoying my summer, focused on my great restaurant job, and school was about to start. I was not experiencing any other symptoms so I figured I’m still all good. I decided to wait until the semester finished and the holidays were out of the way before getting my health changes checked out.

A few days before Christmas I woke up with a huge lump the size of a golf ball under my arm, plus a stomach virus. I was puzzled about these health changes, but each time the symptoms went away. I figured I was fine.

In January 2017, I started waking up hot and sweaty. I developed fevers and chills as well. My legs would start itching nonstop. Now I realize that these symptoms were signs from my body that it was trying to fight a bigger issue – cancer.

I put my health off to the side for NEARLY A YEAR, but finally couldn’t ignore all these symptoms and scheduled an appointment with a doctor. I was referred to a surgical pathologist, who did an excisional lymph node biopsy.

I will never forget when he said “This is really serious.” That’s when it started to hit me that I had been ignoring a lot of symptoms. The next step in diagnosis was a PET scan, which confirmed that I had stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I was just in denial the whole year leading up to my diagnosis. I thought my health issues would just go away on their own, and assumed they were minor and unrelated. When I got diagnosed with cancer I was angry, embarrassed, and felt like I was no longer “normal” like everyone else. I got through chemotherapy by thinking positive, picturing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing everyone was rooting for me.

I learned that it’s important to take those first subtle symptoms seriously. Don’t wait more than 2 weeks to get health changes checked out even if they seem like no big deal. I am more thankful than ever that my disease was still considered treatable despite how long I waited.

"I learned that it’s important to take those first subtle symptoms seriously. Don’t wait more than two weeks to get health changes checked out even if they seem like no big deal."

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