- Diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma

Nic's story

The wake-up call

“I’m a classic man – I didn’t really listen to my body,” Nic laughs. He’s at his parents’ house in Geraldine, telling the story of how he came to be diagnosed with blood cancer at only 23 years old.

Nic was living in Napier at the time, getting back into work as a white water rafting guide after shoulder surgery. He’d been feeling short of breath and had a persistent cough, but put it down to a recent bout of COVID-19. When his symptoms continued, Nic went to the GP and was diagnosed with asthma.

“Then I started waking up with night sweats,” Nic says. But he assumed he was just wearing too many layers in bed.

He’d also lost his appetite and his weight had plummeted to under 50kg. “I was having one bite of anything and that was filling me up.”

The wake-up call came when Nic’s boss started asking him if he was okay. Nic insisted he was just tired, but his boss could tell something was wrong. After taking a couple of days off work, Nic decided it was time to find out what was really going on.

He drove to a 24/7 clinic in Napier and was seen by a doctor who agreed his cough sounded like asthma. “But he said, ‘We’ll do an X-ray – just on the off-chance it’s something else.’” As soon as the X-ray was done, Nic was pulled into the doctor’s office and told to sit down.

“I said, ‘Ohh jeez, I’m getting told off.’ And he said, ‘No, you’ve got cancer.’”

The doctor couldn’t tell whether it was lung cancer or lymphoma, and Nic was sent to Hastings Hospital for more scans.

The next few hours brought more bad news. After finding out he had Hodgkin lymphoma, Nic was told he had fluid around his heart and a large growth in his chest. “I had a 16 to 18-centimetre mass sitting on top of my heart and lungs, and around the main vein going to my heart. So everything was getting squashed – I had 15% function in my left lung.”

He was moved to the intensive care unit immediately and told he might not make it through the night.

“Mum and Dad were travelling from Geraldine up to Hastings to, at that stage, say goodbye – because that’s what we got told.”

It’s clearly hard for Nic to tell this part of his story.

“In the morning, they put a drain in, and by 11 o’clock they’d drained a litre of fluid out of me.”

That same day, Nic was airlifted down to Christchurch Hospital. After being stabilised and starting chemotherapy, Nic was able to go home. He stayed with his parents in Geraldine and continued fortnightly chemo at Timaru Hospital. At first, the treatment was effective.

“But then I relapsed in January. The cancer mass started growing again.”

Following Nic’s relapse, he was started on a different kind of chemotherapy, which he responded to well. To give Nic the best possible chance, this was followed by a stem cell transplant. “After that, I got sent home, and they said, ‘See you in three months for a scan and a check-up.’ And I’ve been in remission ever since.”

Nic is grateful for the part LBC played in his journey. Kate, a Support Services Coordinator, was a huge source of support for Nic during his treatment. “She was my best buddy. We’d message or phone each other when treatment was happening. She’d often come to the ward and say hello. We’d just have a catch-up and she’d see how I was doing.”

As well as providing one-to-one support, LBC invited Nic to participate in support groups in his area. And he was given petrol vouchers to help with the costs of travelling back and forth from the hospital.

“The support LBC gives to people is incredible… It helps people who are going through the journey to not feel so alone.”

Nic is also grateful for the research made possible by LBC funding. “Cancer is in everyone’s lives now – it’s such a common thing. Donating to LBC helps put research towards finding better treatments for people and a better chance of survival.”

Now that he’s eight months on from the end of his treatment, things are getting back to normal for Nic. He still struggles with fatigue but is back at work on a casual, part-time basis.

When asked if there’s anything he’d like to add, Nic says he wants to stress the importance of watching for unusual symptoms and getting regular check-ups.

His message is clear: “Listen to your body.”