I had no idea my tiny rash was a sign of CANCER – I thought I had eczema – The Sun
WHEN Olivia Nikolic spotted a tiny rash on her hip, she thought nothing of it.
The 20-year-old brushed it off as eczema, a patch of dry skin that wasn't worth worrying about even as it spread quickly over her legs.
Then came a dry cough.
Again, Olivia put it down to something minor – this time, a cold.
It wasn't until weeks later, when she was struck by an intense shooting pain from her heart to her left shoulder, that Olivia realised something was wrong.
"It was such an intense pain," she said.
"It was so bad I'd cry. I couldn't breathe.
"My boyfriend – now finace – had a feeling something wasn't right and forced me to go to hospital.
"I am so lucky he did, as I was told if I'd left it for two more weeks, I wouldn't have made it."
Thinking doctors would just confirm her suspicions – of a cold – Olivia's world was turned upside down after she was sent for X-rays. .
"The next day, doctors sat me down and told me they'd found a tumour," Olivia told news.com.au.
"I just cried. I didn't even want to live anymore."
On Valentine's Day this year, just weeks after developing symptoms, Olivia was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma – a type of blood cancer and the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
"It started with a rash on my hip that spread really fast on my legs," she said.
“I didn’t really think anything of it. I just thought it was eczema.
"When I got a dry cough, I just thought I had a cold. I thought that these were just normal things.
"I was in disbelief to learn I had cancer.
“Even a few days before I went to the hospital, I had no clue that anything was wrong with me. I was with my family and my friends, having fun and enjoying life.
“It isn’t something you’d ever expect to go through. You always see it happen to other people, but you never think it would happen to you.”
Just a week after her shock diagnosis, Olivia began the first of six rounds of chemotherapy.
THE SKIN IS LIKE A 'WINDOW TO THE BODY'
IN rare cases breaking out in a rash could be a sign of something far more sinister: cancer.
And those potentially cancerous rashes can be all the more dangerous, disguising themselves as more common, harmless skin problems.
Dr Walayat Hussain, a spokesman for the British Association of Dermatologists, said rashes can be a sign of cancer but stressed that most rashes are nothing to be concerned about.
He said: "This is a tricky subject to discuss without alarming people.
"The skin is like the window to the body if you like, so sometimes that can be a sign that something is going on inside the body."
Mycosis fungoides is a common rash in patients diagnosed with lymphoma.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system – the network of tissues and organs in our body that work to rid us of toxins.
It can be particularly dangerous because the cancerous cells can travel through the body in the bloodstream.
The cancer cells can then grow in several places at once, affecting multiple parts of the body.
A person with lymphoma may develop mycosis fungoides, a rash that is caused when the blood travels to the upper layer of the skin.
In its early stages it may appear as a patchy red rash but as it progresses it tends to become scaly.
It may be itchy and look similar to eczema.
if you like, so sometimes that can be a sign that something is going on inside the body."
The 20-year-old said the disease has overtaken her life, adding she has struggled to face the physical impacts of treatment.
"I've lost all my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes," she said.
"I've also put on weight from the chemotherapy as a result of the steroids they've given me.
It started with a rash on my hip that spread really fast on my legs. I didn’t really think anything of it. I just thought it was eczema
"I've lost everything physically about myself.
"I used to feel really confident, and now I don't feel like I'm good enough.
"It really messes me up that I look like this when I look at myself in the mirror – no hair, no eyelashes.
"This is supposed to be the prime of my life."
SPOT THE SIGNS OF LYMPHOMA
LYMPHOMA is the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
It's a type of blood cancer that develops when white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control.
The symptoms of lymphoma depend on where in the body the disease affects and what type of lymphoma you are diagnosed with.
There are more than 60 different types – broadly grouped into two, Hodgkin lymphomas and non-Hodgkin lymphomas.
Common symptoms include:
- swollen lymph nodes – often painless lumps usually in the neck, armpit or groin
- unexplained weight loss
- night sweats – waking up with you bed sheets and PJs soaking wet
- itching without a rash
Localised symptoms linked to where the cancer starts:
- chest symptoms such as cough or breathlessness
- tummy signs – a sense of fullness
- skin symptoms – a rash or itching
- brain and nerve symptoms – fits, seizures, dizziness or weakness in an arm or leg
- swelling in your arms or legs
Find out more at Lymphoma Action.
But despite facing a multitude of horrific hardships that cancer brings, Olivia is grateful.
“I am lucky enough to have a cancer that is curable. I am thankful for this life lesson because it’s going to shape me to be a better person,” she said.
“For as long as I live, I’ll never take anything for granted again.
“Cancer has changed me as a person to be more grateful and thankful for even the air I’m able to breathe. I am so appreciative of everything I have.
“I am beyond grateful for the amazing people I have in my life, and even though they’re so upset this is happening, it’s made me so much closer to them.”
Olivia’s message is to live life to the fullest; to appreciate the little things and not sweat the small stuff — as well as to get any symptoms, no matter how seemingly minor, checked out.
“The signs and symptoms of having lymphoma are also so easily mistaken for stress. I want to put as much awareness as I can out there for everyone.
“If it wasn’t for Volkan encouraging me to get checked out, I would have died — he saved my life.
“I want to put as much awareness out there that this can happen and help other people going through the same thing.”
Thankfully, Olivia’s tumour has shrunk by half.
And with a few more sessions of chemotherapy, it’s hoped she will make a full recovery.
A friend recently started a GoFundMe account to try and raise $5000 to help towards her medical costs.
“I just can’t wait to start living my life again,” she said.
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