Monday 14 October 2019

'Doctors discovered I had cancer while treating me for deadly meningitis'

There was a time when being diagnosed with the 'Big C' was as good as a death sentence, but thankfully, things have come a long way since then.

Lyndsey Connolly was diagnosed with cancer while battling meningitis
Lyndsey Connolly was diagnosed with cancer while battling meningitis

Arlene Harris

Three years ago, when Lyndsey Connolly came down with flu-like symptoms, she was surprised to be diagnosed with viral meningitis.

But it was only while doctors were investigating the disease that they actually discovered she had Hodgkin lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. 

The Dublin woman was just 25 when her ordeal began: she initially thought she simply had a common flu, however, she was actually fighting two potentially fatal conditions, and today, she is extremely grateful to be alive.  

"When I discovered I had cancer, the fight or flight response kicked in — I was just 25 and not ready to die," she says.

"Because of my age, my consultant pushed for treatment to freeze my eggs in case chemotherapy affected my fertility. I wasn’t sold on the idea, but did it anyway and found the process extremely difficult as it was very invasive and overwhelming,” said Lyndsey, who is now 29.

"The next step was chemo, a regime called ABVD. I had 12 rounds of that, which lasted for seven months, and although I was very calm to begin with, there were times when I wanted to give up — it was so hard. But mostly I coped by being on autopilot and finally went into remission on June 27,  2014.

Lyndsey Connolly was diagnosed with cancer while battling meningitis
Lyndsey Connolly was diagnosed with cancer while battling meningitis

“That was a bittersweet day as I felt amazing having beaten the thing that tried to kill me, but then, the second battle began as I had to deal with what happened — the emotional trauma is so overwhelming and something no one tells you about."

There was a time when being diagnosed with the ‘Big C’ was tantamount to a death sentence but these days, thanks to advances in medical science and improved lifestyles, many cancer patients are not only surviving but going on to live long and happy lives.

This is good news, because, by 2020, one in two of us will have developed it in one form or other — and we all know of someone who has either battled or succumbed to the disease.

Being given the all clear must feel like the greatest lottery win ever and survivors often take their clean bill of health as a reason to embrace the world and live life with renewed vigour. 

Having battled and survived cancer at such a young age, Lyndsey wanted to do something amazing with her life and help others who were going through the same thing. So, in 2014, she responded to a call-out from the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) for young adults to come and talk about what it is like to have cancer.

This prompted her to help set up a programme specifically designed to meet the emotional needs of young cancer patients and so, a year later, YouCan was born.  

"There are fantastic cancer services in this country, but none for young adults, and being treated in a hospital where you’re the youngest patient by decades is very isolating as all you want is someone who’s your age and gets where you are coming from," she says.

"In February 2014, ICS asked young adults with a cancer diagnosis to come and meet and talk about what we needed — I went along and it all started from there.

"So far, it’s going well and we spent 2016 travelling around the country to meet young cancer patients and will do the same this year.

"My advice to someone who has just been diagnosed is to know you are not alone  — you will get through this and there is light at the end of the tunnel."

February 4 is World Cancer Day.

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