Lymphoma at 21

In between my sophomore and junior year in college, I was hospitalized for three days because I had big, red bumps all over my legs that hurt so bad I couldn’t walk. I was diagnosed with a condition called erythema nodosum. When the bumps starting going away, I was released and told that I had Crohn’s disease and that had been the cause of those painful bumps. I thought that was a weird diagnosis because I didn’t have any other symptoms of Crohn’s, but I didn’t question it – the doctor knows best, right?

I went back to school in the fall, and I continued to get more and more sick. I was constantly itchy from head to toe; I had a really bad cough that kept me up all night as well as severe back pain. I got winded easily and had fevers and night sweats. I got dizzy all the time and every time I ate or drank my stomach hurt.

I was living at my college and went to see the nurse at on-campus and went home multiple times to go to my family doctor. When I told them about the health changes I was experiencing, they each explained that the back pain was from my scoliosis and the other changes aren’t concerning because I was probably just ‘burning the candle at both ends.’ When I explained that I was constantly itchy, I was told that it was all in my head. They gave me medicine to help me sleep, but it didn’t work and instead everything got worse. I went to the doctor many times but always got the same answers. I really started to question whether I was making it up. If multiple medical professionals were telling me that it was all in my head, maybe it was…? Still, something in my gut told me that I wasn’t crazy- and that this itching was real.

On a few of those doctor’s visits I was able to convince them to give me a blood test. The results were always slightly abnormal and showed that my liver levels were a little off. No further action was ever taken and no one seemed to be concerned. At the end of my junior year I went home for the summer and back to see my doctor again. This time I got a call afterwards and was told that my blood work was slightly abnormal and that if I felt light headed (which I had the entire school year) I should go to the hospital because I might need a blood transfusion. The nurse also advised me not do anything too strenuous that weekend. They never asked me to come back in for a follow up visit. I didn’t go to the hospital or lay low that weekend – why would I? I was feeling just as bad as I had all year!

My mom then made me an appointment to see a blood specialist and after a year of being told I was crazy and it was nothing, I was diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had to take a semester off from college to be treated with chemotherapy, but I’m happy to say it worked and that I am now in remission and a college graduate.

Before I got diagnosed, I Googled my symptoms to try to figure out what was wrong with me. Cancer was listed as one of the possible causes but I never clicked on it because I thought cancer couldn’t happen to me – I was too young. Plus, after all of those doctors’ visits, they would have noticed symptoms of cancer, right? After I learned that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma I did go back and click on that ‘cancer’ link and every health change that I went to the doctor about was listed as a symptom. I wish I had known what cancer symptoms can be because I’m sure I could have been diagnosed sooner and treatment could have been easier.

Looking back, I wish I would have trusted my instincts more.

Looking back, I wish I would have trusted my instincts more. I knew that it wasn’t just ‘in my head’. I should have also pressed to get more answers and advocated for myself. Doctors don’t know your body as well as you do and they aren’t always right. If you notice a health change that’s unusual, you are probably not crazy or overthinking it. Go get checked by a doctor- and if you don’t get the answers you’re looking for, get another opinion.

"My doctors told me it was all in my head"

Brenna (right) with her friends after the Color Run

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