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Sunday 22 September 2019

'I couldn't stop crying' - Facebook EU boss reveals she has incurable cancer

Facebook’s Europe vice president Nicola Mendelsohn, who has non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Photo: PA
Facebook’s Europe vice president Nicola Mendelsohn, who has non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Photo: PA

Hayley Dixon

The head of Facebook in Europe has revealed that she has incurable cancer in the hope that she can raise awareness of the disease and prompt research into a cure.

Mother-of-four Nicola Mendelsohn (46) was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma more than a year ago and has decided to "watch and wait" rather than treat her tumours with chemotherapy.

Facebook's vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa has joined forces with other sufferers on the social network to raise the profile of the common, but little-known-about cancer and in the process she said it has "stopped all of us feeling alone with this disease".

Revealing her diagnosis for the first time, she wrote on the social network: "I often talk about how people can seize their own destiny, so it's tough to be reminded that there are things you can't control.

"Just over a year ago I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma - a slow developing cancer of the white blood cells that's not rare and that has no cure. It is quite an unknown disease which is why I've decided to raise awareness by telling my story in the hope of driving research and a better understanding of it."

She says that the diagnosis has not changed her as she has always been an optimist who if anything is "even more grateful" for what she has been given.

When she was diagnosed in November 2016 she was fit and had not been feeling tired or unwell, but had noticed a lump on her groin which she discussed with a GP who referred her to a gynaecologist, who in turn sent her for a scan.

It showed she had "tumours up and down my body" but, as it was a Friday afternoon, the tests she needed to tell her more could not be done until the Monday.

"I had a horrible two days trying to process it. It was worse that I didn't find out all in one go. I couldn't stop crying that weekend, grieving for the life I'd had before," she wrote in the 'Sunday Times' magazine.

Further scans and biopsies showed she had follicular lymphoma, a cancer she had never even heard of.

When she and her husband Jonathan, a Labour peer in the UK, sat their four children - aged between 13 and 20 - down and explained her condition, her youngest, Zac, asked: "Are you going to die?"

"That's always the thought that comes into your head when you hear the word 'cancer'," she wrote. "It is not a conversation I could ever have imagined having with them, not even in my worst nightmares, until it hit me in the face. It was the hardest moment of my life."

Her husband, who last month lost his place on the Labour front bench after attending the all-male Presidents Club dinner, has been "amazing, my absolute rock", she said.

It is the most common type of slow grown non-Hodgkin lymphomas, but is usually found in men over 65.

Sixty percent of people with lymphomas live for more than 10 years.

But for a woman in her 40s "it doesn't feel acceptable", Ms Mendelsohn said.

She decided to watch and wait as there is no change in life expectancy depending on when treatment starts, and now has regular scans and blood tests.

If the tumours are growing she will begin chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Irish Independent

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