- Diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma

Li’e's story

My worst-case scenario

“Before I was diagnosed, I had no clue what lymphoma was. There’s no history of cancer in my family, and I didn’t really have any medical issues before that.”

Li’e and her husband moved from their Auckland home to Sydney in July of 2022. They had been there for less than six months when a close family friend passed away, just before the New Year, and so Li’e flew back to Auckland in January. While in Auckland, Li’e went to the doctor to get a second opinion about a lump on her neck. She had already had it examined in Sydney, but as a Kiwi abroad, visiting the doctor was expensive. “The doctor was pretty concerned with the lump, and they said that I shouldn’t leave the country. They referred me to a radiologist, who then did an ultrasound on it. They told me it didn’t look good – but I had to wait for the doctor to find out more.”

Li’e called her husband, who immediately booked tickets to Auckland to join her on the journey she was about to go on. Li’e was then referred to yet another specialist in Manukau, who did two biopsies, and confirmed it for her: she had Hodgkin lymphoma, stage 2. “I was with my family when I got the results. It was life-changing. It definitely didn’t sit well… but I think it affected my family more than me. I was more prepared for it. I had already had this lump on my neck, plus itchy legs and night sweats.”

Li’e had tried to protect her family from worrying about her while she went through the process of being diagnosed, until she knew for sure what was going on. “I knew it wasn’t looking good, and that was my worst-case scenario – finding out that it was cancer.”

“We had a fair idea of what it could be… we were just hoping it wasn’t.”

Because she was only 25, Li’e was offered two options for chemotherapy. “I could either have the treatment catered to kids, where we’d do chemo for three or four months with the hope of avoiding radiation. Or, the other option – the adult option – as I call it, was to go full steam ahead with both chemo and radiation.” Li’e was lost. Not only had she not heard of lymphoma before, but she wasn’t familiar with chemotherapy either; what it looked like or how it worked. “I asked my haematologist what to do, and he thought the best option was the kids one, to avoid radiation. And in the end, that was definitely the best option for me.”

Li’e went through four months of chemotherapy and dealt with some difficult reactions to it. “These included neuropathy, achy joints, constipation and low white blood cells. I also had to have blood transfusions, and I ended up being hospitalised after each round of chemotherapy. Managing things at home during my treatment was hard – especially coming off steroids.”

Li’e is grateful for the support of her husband, family and close friends. “They’ve supported me unconditionally during one of the hardest trials I have faced.” Tim from LBC played a key role in helping Li’e manage, too. “I got in contact with him. He was super helpful. He supported me and visited me in hospital, gave me petrol vouchers. Even after treatment, he was able to connect me with another girl who had Hodgkin lymphoma.”

“That was cool because she was around my age, she was about 23 or 24 and we could talk about our experiences. Like, losing our hair – for me, that was really hard to go through and to accept that that was part of chemo. It was nice to talk to someone who understood what that was like.”

Li’e still has regular check-ups with her haematologist, and she’s happy to report that, as of recently, she’s almost all-clear from blood cancer. After moving overseas, then being forced back home due to such a serious illness – the news that she is OK is bittersweet. “This whole past year has been about looking after myself and just surviving through treatment. That’s all I knew. So re-learning how to go back to normal life has been interesting. Eventually, my husband and I want to return to Sydney, go back to our jobs and back to our lives.”

“My body got so drained and overwhelmed during treatment, and now that I have my energy back, I want to get back out there and bring awareness to what people like me go through with blood cancer.”

Fast Facts: Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Hodgkin lymphoma makes up roughly 10% of all lymphomas with about 135 diagnosed in NZ each year
  • The majority of those diagnosed are aged between 15 and 35
  • Hodgkin lymphoma is the name given to lymphomas that have a special kind of cancer cell, called a Reed-Sternberg cell.