Life Health & Wellbeing

Wednesday 21 August 2019

'I had a severe itch in my leg... later I was told it was cancer' - Woman (30) on shock diagnosis

Rebecca McDonald
Rebecca McDonald
Rebecca McDonald is now recovered. Since her recovery she has learned to drive and is now learning to swim.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A 30-year-old woman who suffered an incessant itch in her leg for three years has told how it was a symptom that she had Hodgkin lymphoma.

Rebecca McDonald (30) says the itch would wake her up at night, and her family were concerned when in the evenings she would constantly scratch her leg.

McDonald, who in her early 20s and studying video and film production at the time, says she also felt a pain in her shoulder every time she had an alcoholic drink.

“Every night, I’d sit on the couch and I’d drive my family nuts, I’d be scratching. I’d wake up at night scratching as well. Sometimes I would tear the skin.”

“I didn’t know what was happening at the time and I went to the doctor to have routine blood test, and I got a phone call to go back in and I had an elevated white blood cell count. But I’d just gotten over a cold and that’s what the doctor put it down to.”

In the meantime, Rebecca went for allergy tests and was put on antihistamines, and also underwent acupuncture to try and bring her itch under control.   

Rebecca began to lose her hair two weeks into treatment
Rebecca began to lose her hair two weeks into treatment

But while her white blood cell count continued to grow progressively higher, a lump developed on her neck.

"I went to the doctor and said I’ve done the research, I think I have lymphoma and I need you to tell me what kind I have.”

After a biopsy in July 2012, doctors broke the news to Rebecca on August 8 that she had stage four hodgkin lymphoma.

“It was a relief because I knew something was wrong, I was so frightened, I couldn’t live a normal life because of the itch.”

She added: “Because I was diagnosed as stage four, it had spread to my lungs and bones. But from the outset, they said it was very treatable, so I was lucky in that respect.”

Two weeks into her chemotherapy treatment, Rebecca’s hair began to fall out.

“In some respects I would say I was quite lucky because I was never sick, but I was on steroids and I was bloated and eating all the time. I had ABVD chemotherapy (combination treatment used to treat hodgkins) and I had a bad reaction to one of the drugs so I was put on strong antihistamines for that.”

She added: “My hair, my precious hair never came back the same, I had red hair, and I don’t think it’s as red now as it was even though people tell me it is. It took me by surprise, as soon as they told me that I was going to lose it, that upset me.”

“Two weeks into treatment, I was tying my hair up, and I said to my mam, ‘it’s started’. I couldn’t bring myself to shave my hair. I couldn’t let go of it, at one stage I said ‘let’s do it and shave it, and my mam got the scissors and was going to cut my ponytail, but I just burst into tears and said ‘no’.”

Rebecca was given the all-clear in February 2013. Last year when she turned 30 she decided to get her driver’s license and now she’s started to learn how to swim. 

“I found the recovery difficult emotionally, you’ve just lost this chunk of your life. I wasn’t long out of college, and people are going off with their careers and going out and having fun, and I was in bed. But I've started to do things for myself now like learning to drive and learning to swim.”

The Irish Cancer Society and Today FM are asking people to be a’ Dancer for Cancer’ on April 30th to raise crucial funds for people affected by cancer. As part of the ‘Dare to Care’ campaign members of the public are asked to join in a National Day of Dancing on April 30 To get involved visit www.cancer.ie/daretocare

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