A young woman is raising awareness of blood cancer after mistakenly thinking she was suffering from university stress – only to be given a devastating lymphoma diagnosis.
Libby Sunter, now 20, had been feeling tired and experiencing symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath, night sweats, itching, and sore limbs, but put the issues down to her intense musical theatre course.
However, after going to the doctors, she was sent onto hospital where she was told she had stage four blood cancer in April 2022.
Now, a year on from being declared cancer free last November, Libby said: ‘I thought I was just pushing myself too far, and that it would get easier once I got used to how demanding the course was.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting in a hospital bed and them telling me the diagnosis. They said, “We think it’s lymphoma.”
‘I didn’t know anything about it at the time, let alone the symptoms – I didn’t even link it to cancer because I didn’t think it could be that serious.’
The student from Liverpool revealed that her diagnosis only came about through a chance sleepover with her girlfriend, who was shocked to see Libby having a seizure during the night at her home.
She is now hoping that by sharing her story, other people won’t wait as long as she did to seek medical attention if they experience any lymphoma symptoms, which can include heavy sweating, high temperatures, weight loss, itching, a cough or shortness of breath as well as abdominal pain or vomiting after alcohol consumption.
Recounting her ordeal, Libby said: ‘I had a headache for about four days, and I was still going into uni. Then it got to a point where I felt too ill to go in, and I stayed over at my girlfriend’s flat.
‘She turned to me in the middle of the night and I was having a shaking fit that only lasted for a few seconds.
‘When we woke up the next morning, she was like, “I didn’t know what to do because you went straight back to sleep afterwards and seemed completely fine.”
‘I rang my mum the next morning and she told me to go to the doctor because it wasn’t normal.’
When she went to the drop-in centre the following day, a doctor overheard Libby telling the receptionist what was going on and advised her to go straight to A&E.
‘It was quite scary because I still didn’t think anything of it,’ she added.
At this point Libby was diagnosed with anaemia, but a persistent high temperature, lack of appetite, and fatigue so bad she ‘couldn’t even stand up’ caused her to go back for a second opinion.
Cancer was then confirmed by a biopsy, with doctors saying they believed it had been ‘growing and growing’ for around a year.
‘I was worried about my fertility, so before starting treatment, I tried to have my eggs frozen, but I fainted before my procedure so they decided I was too ill to go through with it,’ said Libby.
She underwent 12 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, having to head to hospital for the treatment once every two weeks over six months despite a ‘horrendous reaction’ at first.
Worried about symptoms?
Dr Lawrence Cunningham from UK Care Guide said: ‘The symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – such as fatigue, night sweats, and unintentional weight loss – can initially be quite mild and easily mistaken for less serious conditions like the flu, so can often be ignored, particularly in the winter months.
‘Fear of a cancer diagnosis can also lead some people to delay seeking medical help, even when they think something is not quite right. This can be true when someone suspects blood cancers, which are often perceived as being particularly severe or untreatable, but this is not the case.
‘It’s really important for individuals to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical advice as soon as they can.’
Thankfully, however, the type of cancer Libby had was treatable, and by November she had the all-clear.
She said: ‘The diagnosis was awful to hear, but within a few weeks, I’d taken time to process it. I was kind of just like, “Okay, well, at least now I’m getting treated.”
‘It was an amazing hospital and the nurses were angels.’
Unfortunately Libby has to drop out of university because of what happened, but she’s now reapplying for the same course and is ‘excited at the thought of going back’.
Following her ordeal, Libby also started sharing her journey on social media, and has had a number of messages from others experiencing similar symptoms.
‘Straight away, I tell them go and get checked out,’ she added. ‘It’s better to sit in A&E for 10 hours and get told that it’s okay than be in a situation like mine.’
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