Know the Signs of Lymphoma
- Jamie Roberts was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma at 24 years old. But she struggled with symptoms for about six months prior to her diagnosis – her first sign being itchiness all over her body.
- Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer. Early symptoms of the disease can be tricky to notice as they may include swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin, persistent fatigue, fever, night sweats, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss and itchy skin.
- Lymphoma treatment, in general, depends greatly on the nature of your specific diagnosis. And one of our experts says “unlike other cancers, where advanced stage is a death sentence, that’s certainly not the case for lymphoma.”
- Being your own advocate can be key to getting a correct cancer diagnosis and obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a diagnosis. One of our experts says there should be a plan for what your doctor is going to do for you after you leave every appointment.
Roberts is a stage three lymphoma survivor. And she’s been very open about sharing the details of her cancer journey with her TikTok community.Read More
“I was itching my whole entire body for a year, and I didn’t get flare ups, I changed my shampoos, my sheets, my detergent, I was like I’m allergic to something,” she explained of her symptoms leading up to her diagnosis. “I got an amazing golden retriever puppy, thought I developed an allergy to her.”
@jamiiieeeroberts This is the easiest way I can explain the events leading up to getting to St. Jude!Hopefully it helps someone who may have similar symptoms! #ShowYourJOWO #FORDfortheBuilders #cancersucks ♬ original sound – jamiiieee
In December 2021, Roberts saw her a dermatologist who gave her steroid creams and a steroid shot and told her to take Claritin twice a day. In addition, she also had blood work done which seemed to be “out of whack.”
This then led to a visit with a rheumatologist who thought she had anemia and some type of autoimmune disorder. Similarly, a separate appointment with another specialist also led to the diagnosis of anemia. Roberts was given iron infusions, but she was later sent to more specialists after telling her dermatologist that her symptoms only persisted.
@jamiiieeeroberts this is your sign to never stop advocating for your health 🙂 #MadewithKAContest #ReadyForHell #cancersucks ♬ original sound – Phaith Montoya
“Every specialist just took my blood, told me I was autoimmune, that was it,” she said. “I never got tested for anything else.”
Things took a turn for the worse after she had a breast procedure done for an unrelated reason.
“For my boob job, I had to do bloodwork before,” she said. “It came back irregular. They sent it to my hematologist just to clear the boob job, and it got cleared so I got to do it.
“Two weeks after the boob job… I got really sick at work. My hands were shaking, my vision was blurring – that’s when the breathing started, the coughing started. My sister was like, ‘You need to go to the ER.'”
Roberts reluctantly took her sister’s advice, and doctors in the emergency room quickly went to work. After blood work, a chest X Ray and samples taken, they determined that she needed a CT scan to check for blood clotting since she had recently had surgery.
@jamiiieeeroberts I really hope this helps update people & if someone is going through something similar! I’ll do a room tour soon! #ShowYourJOWO #FORDfortheBuilders #cancersucks ♬ original sound – jamiiieee
“My boob job saved my life,” she said in another video. “So, the doctor comes back and me and my mom are in there. He goes, ‘We didn’t find any blood clots, but you have a large mass in your lung.'”
Roberts was understandably shocked. After getting in to see a different doctor at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Roberts received different, yet still concerning, answers.
“The oncologist looked at everything, he goes, ‘Your right lung is collapsed, your spleen is swollen, the mass is not in your lung, it’s in the middle of your chest, all the lymph nodes in your chest are swollen.'” she explained. “He’s like, “‘I’m telling you this is lymphoma… We had a second oncologist look at my stuff – same thing.”
Within days, Roberts was officially diagnosed with stage three lymphoma. From there, she had testing done on her lymph nodes to make a more accurate treatment plan and eventually began chemotherapy followed by radiation.
@jamiiieeeroberts Post cancer life isn’t easy, but cheers to embracing it 🏽 #lymphomaawareness #cancerfighter #cancersucks #cancersurvivor ♬ original sound – jamiiieee
Fast forward to today, and Roberts is, thankfully, in remission. She seems to be doing much better today, but she’s told her followers that she’s still recovering emotionally.
“Now that I’m done with treatment and I’ve finished, I think now I’m finally processing everything that I’ve gone through, and it’s all finally hitting me and it’s not easy,” she said. “I’m starting to come to terms with I will never be the girl that I was before I was diagnosed – it’s very bittersweet.
“I’m having to learn how to embrace and accept this new person I am and this new woman I am and stop trying to reach into the past and find that old girl ’cause she’s gone… but we’re making it.”
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer. Blood cancers can affect the bone marrow, blood cells, lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that every 3 minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer.
More specifically, lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that begins in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphoma begins when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation that makes them multiply much faster than normal. This mutation also forces older cells that would normally die to stay alive. From there, the quickly multiplying lymphocytes collect and build up in your lymph nodes, the small glands in your neck, armpits, and other parts of your body.
It’s important to note there are more than 40 different types of lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the main two sub-categories with the latter being more common. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common form of lymphoma.
The type of white blood cells linked to the disease determines the distinction between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If doctors are unable to detect the Reed-Sternberg cell – a giant cell derived from B lymphocytes – then the cancer is categorized as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
You might be at a higher risk for lymphoma if you:
- Have been infected with the HIV or Epstein-Barr virus
- Had an organ transplant
- Have a family history of lymphoma
- Have been treated with radiation or chemotherapy drugs for cancer in the past
- Have an autoimmune disease
Signs of Lymphoma
One thing to note about lymphomas is this type of cancer often creeps in quietly, without symptoms. And even when symptoms do show up, they don’t necessarily point directly to cancer. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Elise Chong, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, explained that lymphoma symptoms could be difficult to detect.
“The symptoms of lymphoma, especially if you have a low-grade lymphoma, often are no symptoms,” Dr. Chong explained. “People say, but I feel completely fine, and that’s very normal.”
People with lymphoma do not always have symptoms, but possible signs are:
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
No matter what, it’s important to communicate anything unusual happening to your body with your doctor. Even if there’s nothing to worry about, it’s good to rule out the possibility of more serious issues.
Lymphoma Treatment Options
Lymphoma treatment, in general, depends greatly on the nature of your specific diagnosis. For non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients, their cancer is more likely to spread in a random fashion and be found in different groups of lymph nodes in the body. Hodgkin lymphoma cancers, on the other hand, are more likely to grow in a uniform way from one group of lymph nodes directly to another.
And even if you’re not diagnosed until a later stage, Dr. Chong assured SurvivorNet that “unlike other cancers, where advanced stage is a death sentence, that’s certainly not the case for lymphoma.”
“We have many treatments with which people can either be cured with advanced stage lymphoma or have very good remissions,” Dr. Chong said. “So it doesn’t change how treatable someone is, even when they do have advanced stage lymphoma.”
Some lymphomas, called indolent lymphomas, might not even need to be treated right away because they’re slow-growing. In this case, careful monitoring – including imaging scans such as PET/CT – is used to track the progress of the cancer and gauge whether it needs treatment yet.
“Where I use PET/CT in my practice quite a bit is if I’m observing a patient … and there is some new symptom or situation which makes me concerned that the patient may be changing from an indolent lymphoma to a more aggressive lymphoma,” Dr. Jakub Svoboda, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet. “We refer to it as transformation.”
The Importance of Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer.
And, as we saw in the case of Jamie, it’s always crucial to speak up about any changes to your health – regardless of whether you suspect there’s anything sinister behind them.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
Another thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.