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The Big C: Cancer or Covid?

24th Nov 2021

Nichola put down many of her blood cancer symptoms down to long-Covid. After an aggressive chemo regime which left her unable walk, she is now in remission and determined to regain her strength. Find out how she's doing in our Jog 26.2 mile challenge.

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Nichola Petermann

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In December 2020 I finally got my break in TV as a floor runner. I had a week of filming before finishing for Christmas and returning in the new year. The days were long, tiresome and cold, but I was finally doing what I had dreamed of. So, I ignored every body ache and pain, night sweat and fever.

Before returning to work, I tested positive for Covid and isolated for three weeks. During isolation, my symptoms returned.

The pain felt as if my appendix had regenerated like Doctor Who and burst all over again.

My GP thought Covid had possibly messed with scar tissue from my appendectomy, but it was impossible to say. I was sent to an out-of-hours clinic where I was prescribed Buscopan and sent away.

I later had an ultrasound, where the results came back ‘normal’. So, I continued to suffer in silence. I had night sweats that had me changing clothes, sleeping on towels, and flipping the duvet back and forth for the driest side. Fevers above 38 degrees, sleepless nights and body aches.

Bar the pain, the symptoms read like the NHS webpage on long-Covid. So, that’s what I chose to believe it was. But during a visit to my nana – who has stomach cancer – I noticed that I was sleeping more and eating less than she was. That’s when I knew for certain that something was wrong.

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After one hellish week in pain, I called NHS 24 driving home from work. After admitting to them that I was exceeding the recommended dose of paracetamol, they referred me to the Immediate Assessment Unit to have my bloods taken. Once at hospital, I was sent for x-rays and ultrasounds to try and find the source of the pain. They came to the assumption that it must be a gynaecological issue.

I was told that I would be discharged, as they couldn’t reach a diagnosis. They did however do one more ultrasound, which found an ovarian cyst and trapped fluid from my appendectomy. This would need further investigation. The CT scans showed fluid around my lungs and swollen lymph nodes – another symptom I noticed, but again put down to Covid.

From overhearing conversations and the select information doctors gave me, I did my own FBI-worthy investigating on Google.

I realised they were looking for lymphoma. This was soon confirmed by a biopsy, which led to me being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

I don’t think there was any part of me that was surprised when I was told I had cancer. What I didn’t tell anyone is that despite convincing everyone, including myself, that it was long-Covid, I had actually spent the previous six months searching symptoms of various cancers.

I’ve always been a hypochondriac but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get rid of this niggling feeling. I wasn’t scared. Not until haematology received my PET scan and decided I didn’t have time to go through fertility preservation. I had to start chemotherapy the very next day.

My treatment

I received four cycles of eBEACOPDac, which caused awful mouth sores, leaving me unable to eat or drink.

Mouth sores and nausea meant I lost three stone in weight, and I had to have a catheter and nasogastric tube inserted.

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Being so weak and bed bound, I relied on the help of nurses and my mum. I also had physio to regain my strength and ability to walk. My consultant discharged me from hospital after three cycles, and I was able to have my last cycle at home.

Being at home improved my recovery time so much so that before the word ‘remission’ was even mentioned, I was already dreaming of life after cancer. And so, I began searching for fundraising events to take part in.

One of the toughest parts of recovery is accepting you may never fully recover. Chemotherapy takes a heavy toll on your body and the side effects are never-ending. But when I saw that Blood Cancer UK were doing an event, Jog 26.2 miles in November, I thought to myself - ‘easy, I just need to walk a mile a day!’

I set up my fundraising page weeks in advance because I was both anxious to start and because I was scared that I wouldn’t reach my target. But in less than 24 hours, my family and friends were incredibly generous and donated over £500 before I even started. It’s so easy to wallow in the anxiety that cancer causes and do nothing more than eat, sleep and take meds.

But the fundraiser has given me a massive morale boost and forced me out from the comfort of my bed.

Despite making plans for my mum to take my place if needed, I completed the 26.2 miles in seventeen days and finished five months to the day from my diagnosis. So far, I have raised over £2,500 for Blood Cancer UK and I plan to keep going to raise even more.

If you'd like to support Nichola in her fundraising, you can!

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