“If you feel that something’s wrong, push for tests.”
That is the message that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma suffer Melissa Heine wants to convey after being diagnosed with an advanced form of the condition aged just 23.
The Tayside care worker was feeling unwell for around a year and was wrongly diagnosed with a range of illnesses, from sciatica, to appendicitis, to possible HIV.
By the time the real cause of her symptoms was identified, her condition had advanced to stage four – the most severe form.
She now faces a gruelling round of treatment which could make her infertile and forcing her to freeze her eggs.
Melissa, who moved from South Africa to Dundee at the age of ten, now lives in Forfar and said that the support from people throughout Tayside has been “amazing”.
Her friends are helping her fundraise to pay her rent while she’s off work, as well as to donate money to a cancer charity.
Melissa said: “It all started with a pain in my groin and lower stomach area.
“At first I was diagnosed with sciatica and given painkillers, which didn’t seem to be helping. Later I found a lump in my neck, the size of a pea. My GP arranged a scan and it was decided that it was a swollen node, nothing to worry about.
“But the pain continued and the chiropractor I was going to for the ‘sciatica’ treatment wrote a letter to the GP to ask for it to be investigated further.
“I had a blood test, which showed I was severely anaemic. At one point my pain was so bad that I was sent up to Ninewells with suspected appendicitis.
“They found that I had a very low white blood count. I had some more scans, and I was told I had swollen lymph nodes on my neck, behind my breast bone, on my stomach and groin.”
Melissa was told that in the worst case scenario she had a malignant cancer and in the best, HIV.
She added: “There was no win that that day – and on March 28, I was told I had stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I’ll have to have chemotherapy, and if it doesn’t work then I’ll need stronger chemo which could make me infertile.
“I’m having my eggs removed, fertilised and the embryos frozen in case I want to have kids in future – it’s something to look forward to.
“The money being raised will go towards the Little Princess Trust, and the rest to help me live day to day while I’m off work.
“I want to raise awareness of this condition and encourage anyone who feels that something is wrong to push for tests.
“If I had been diagnosed sooner, my chances of recovery would have been much better.”