Trusting Your Body and Advocating for Yourself
- Erin Harris first became concerned when she started feeling wheezy and tired. Her doctor suspected that her symptoms might be caused by a watermelon allergy.
- When a lump developed on Harris’s neck, her doctor suggested that it was a swollen gland caused by a virus. But the lump kept growing and her symptoms persisted.
- Harris kept fighting for further testing, and when she finally got a referral she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. After undergoing chemotherapy at the beginning of 2021, she has entered remission.
Harris’s symptoms started in October 2020. At the time, she visited her doctor, who suggested she might be feeling wheezy and tired because of asthma or an allergic reaction. It was a plausible explanation—Harris had gone through another health problem the summer before because of tropical fruit. “I had a blood test and it indicated allergies, so it all added up,” she told The Sun.Read More
Her doctor suggested that the lump was a swollen gland caused by a virus, but the explanation did not completely put her concerns to rest. Harris celebrated her 17th birthday without resolving the issue.
Doctors can provide basic health guidelines, but if you are experiencing physical symptoms — only you can speak up and inquire about what you need.
As the lump continued to grow, Harris made more trips to the doctor. “After finding the lump, I saw the GP four times over the course of two months before getting a referral,” she said. “I kept going but they thought it was a virus.”
“Eventually, I called them up and blagged my way through it and told them it was really bad and I got referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist who ran tests and found it to be cancer,” Harris said. “We know our bodies better than anyone, and we know even better when something is wrong. Getting checked is the most important thing.”
The teenager was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and began chemotherapy in February 2021. Harris went into remission, and she is looking forward to studying psychology at college next year. She uses her story to spread awareness about teenage cancer on TikTok, encouraging other young people to pay attention to their bodies and take the initiative to check for cancer.
What is Hodgkin Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that affects infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. And there are more than 40 different types of lymphoma.
“Lymphoma is split up into a number of different categories,” Dr. Elise Chong, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, tells SurvivorNet.
“The first distinguishing breakpoint, if you will, is non-Hodgkin lymphoma versus Hodgkin lymphoma,” she adds, “and those sound like two different categories. But non-Hodgkin lymphoma comprises the majority of lymphoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma is a single specific type of lymphoma.”
Lymphoma comes in several different types, and knowing which one you have is important as you start thinking about treatment.
Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of these cells, which can be seen under a microscope, will help your doctor determine which of the two lymphoma types you have.
There are a few other important differences between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma to note. For one thing, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is much more common. And you are more likely to be diagnosed with it after age 55.
It should be noted that another difference between these two types of lymphoma is that non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to spread in a random fashion and be found in different groups of lymph nodes in the body, while Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to grow in a uniform way from one group of lymph nodes directly to another.
These two different types of lymphoma behave, spread and respond to treatment differently, so it is important for you to know which type you have.
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, about 95% of people with Hodgkin lymphoma have classical Hodgkin lymphoma. This subtype is further divided into four distinct subtypes shown in the table below. There are four different subtypes, one of which is nodular sclerosis. This type accounts for 70% of classical Hodgkin lymphoma cases and is the most common type in young adults.
Contributing: Sydney Schaefer