I assumed I’d just pulled a muscle in my neck – but it actually turned out to be stage four cancer

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A fitness instructor who assumed she had pulled a muscle in her neck in fact had stage four cancer.

Lily Venus, then aged 24, visited her GP in November 2021 after a painful lump near her collarbone made her job teaching Zoom exercise classes challenging.

Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and told she had tumours in both sides of her neck, as well as on her chest and lung.

Miss Venus, from Winchester in Hampshire, underwent 12 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy at University Hospital Southampton and was told she may lose her fertility.

But the now-26-year-old has been in remission for one year, is back to teaching fitness class and has kept her fertility.

Lily Venus, then aged 24, assumed she had pulled a muscle in her neck in fact had stage four cancer

Lily Venus, then aged 24, assumed she had pulled a muscle in her neck in fact had stage four cancer

Two weeks later she was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and told she had tumours in both sides of her neck, her chest, and her lung

Two weeks later she was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and told she had tumours in both sides of her neck, her chest, and her lung 

She visited her GP in November 2021 after a painful lump (pictured) near her collarbone made her job teaching Zoom classes challenging

She visited her GP in November 2021 after a painful lump (pictured) near her collarbone made her job teaching Zoom classes challenging

In September 2021, while teaching six exercise classes a week over zoom, Miss Venus started to experience light-headedness.

She was also ‘incredibly fatigued’, napping at least once a day. 

Miss Venus and her partner-of-eight years Ryan Lynch, a 36-year-old gardening business owner, went to Petersfield for a short break in November 2021 before driving to York to pick up a new puppy. 

‘On the drive, I had an awkward feeling in my neck,’ she said. ‘It felt like I had slept funny.’

Miss Venus’s symptoms persisted for the next week but she put them down to being exhausted from exercise and having a new puppy to care for. 

‘At the end of that week, I had a lump come up just above my collarbone,’ she said.

‘The discomfort was preventing me from being able to teach the upper-body parts of my exercise classes, so I booked a doctor’s appointment.’ 

Miss Venus’ doctor at St Clements Surgery, Winchester, told her she needed to go to A&E – which she thought was an ‘overreaction’ – but on November 18, 2021, she was dealt the devastating news that she had cancer.

Hodgkin lymphoma starts in the white blood cells. 

It is named after Thomas Hodgkin, an English doctor who first identified the disease in 1832. 

It affects around 2,000 people each year in the UK, and 8,500 a year in the US. 

Miss Venus began the first of a six-month course of chemotherapy just before Christmas that year and was treated at University Hospital Southampton. 

Doctors told Miss Venus that her cancer was responding well to the chemo and she was able to receive a lower dose on her last eight sessions. She finished chemotherapy on May 20 and is now in remission.

Before her treatment began, doctors informed her there was a ‘slim’ risk she could lose her fertility and offered her IVF.

But this would have delayed her chemotherapy by six months. 

‘I found making this decision really tough,’ she said. ‘I talked to Ryan about it and he said, “Without you, there is no baby. It’s important we get you healthy as soon as possible”.

‘I am so grateful this is how he viewed it because my cancer was already stage four and Hodgkin lymphoma is fast-growing. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t started chemotherapy straight away.’

Miss Venus, from Winchester, Hampshire, underwent 12 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy at University Hospital Southampton and was told she may lose her fertility

Miss Venus, from Winchester, Hampshire, underwent 12 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy at University Hospital Southampton and was told she may lose her fertility

In September 2021, while teaching six exercise classes a week over zoom, Miss Venus started to experience light-headedness

In September 2021, while teaching six exercise classes a week over zoom, Miss Venus started to experience light-headedness

But the now-26-year-old has been in remission for one year, is back to teaching fitness class and has kept her fertility

But the now-26-year-old has been in remission for one year, is back to teaching fitness class and has kept her fertility

Miss Venus kept her fertility but says she now has lots of new allergies, and ‘my heart and other organs will forever be weaker than they once were’.

She said she is ‘so grateful’ to her doctors for catching it quickly.

‘I feel like catching my cancer at the stage it was is one of the reasons I was able to achieve remission’, she said.

Miss Venus said: ‘I am most looking forward to life, every little tiny bit of it and everything in between.

‘I have always dreamt of being a mother, and not knowing if I would be able to achieve that title in my life has only made me long for it even more.

‘During my treatment, I had to accept changes such as losing my hair, not being able to show up for people as I had been, and not being able to live my life as I had been.

‘After my treatment, I had to accept that I will never have that year again.

She added: ‘I am so grateful to be able to move onwards and upwards with a new appreciation for how wonderful life is.’

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes, which is the body’s disease-fighting network.

That network consists of the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes and thymus gland. 

There are various types of lymphoma, but two main ones: non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin.

Both have much better prognoses than many types of cancer. 

WHAT IS HODGKIN LYMPHOMA?

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells. It is named after Thomas Hodgkin, an English doctor who first identified the disease in 1832.  

It affects around 2,000 people each year in the UK, and 8,500 a year in the US.

Hodgkin lymphoma is most common between the ages of 20 and 24, and 75 and 79. 

Five-year survival rates:

The survival rates are much more favourable than most other cancers. 

  • Stage 1: 90%
  • Stage 2: 90%
  • Stage 3: 80%
  • Stage 4: 65% 

Symptoms include: 

  • A painless swelling in the armpits, neck and groin 
  • Heavy night sweating
  • Extreme weight loss 
  • Itching
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Coughing 

Risk factors: 

  • Lowered immunity
  • A family history of the condition
  • Smokers 
  • Those who are overweight

Treatment: 

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Steroids 
  • Stem cell or bone marrow transplants

WHAT IS NON-HODGKIN LYMPHOMA?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur anywhere in the body but is usually first noticed in the lymph nodes around sufferers’ necks.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects around 14,000 new people every year in the UK. In the US, more than 80,000 people are diagnosed annually.

It is more common in males than females, and it is commonly diagnosed either in a patient’s early 20s or after the age of 55. 

Five-year survival rates:

Survival can vary widely with NHL. 

The general survival rate for five years is 70 percent, and the chance of living 10 years is approximately 60 percent. 

Symptoms include:

  • Painless swellings in the neck, armpit or groin
  • Heavy night sweating
  • Unexplained weight loss of more than one-tenth of a person’s body
  • Itching

Risk factors:

  • Over 75
  • Have a weak immune system
  • Suffer from coeliac disease
  • Have a family history of the condition 
  • Have had other types of cancer

Treatment:

It depends on the number and locations of the body affected by Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Therapy typically includes chemotherapy.



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