By Liana Jacob
THIS INSPIRING British twenty-two-year-old whose cancer chest pains were dismissed by medics is now raising awareness of cancer misdiagnosis on social media while she bravely recovers through chemotherapy.
In 2017, fashion communication student, Olivia Smith (22), from Southampton, UK, was on holiday in Menorca and just after a sip of alcohol, she experienced chest pains. Weeks later, she made an appointment with her GP who told her there was no possible correlation between drinking alcohol and having chest pains but was nevertheless told to stay away from alcohol.
She experienced these pains for a few months before making another appointment and was again misdiagnosed with costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage.
A few weeks later, Olivia noticed a few lumps had appeared on her neck and she went back to her GP where they referred her to a lymphoma specialist. They ran an X-ray test which showed she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of lymphoma that is generally believed to result from white blood cells of the lymphocyte kind.
She has since been sharing her inspiring journey to recovery on Instagram with her 5,000 followers while receiving chemotherapy treatment.
“I started to notice something was wrong whilst I was on holiday in Menorca last year. When I drunk even just a sip of alcohol I would get a pain in my chest,” Olivia said.
“This went on for a few weeks, so I made an appointment with my GP. First of all, the doctor told me that there was no possible correlation between drinking alcohol and having a pain in your chest.
“I was told to simply not drink any alcohol. But being the sociable twenty-one-year-old that I was I didn’t stop, I simply just ignored the pain but after a few months the pain got worse.
“I made another GP appointment where I was again misdiagnosed with costochondritis. A few weeks later I noticed a few lumps had appeared on my neck, so I went back to the GP where they then referred me to see the lymphoma specialist.
“Before this day I had never even heard of the word Lymphoma. On the day I went to the lymphoma clinic I had an X-ray that day. It became pretty clear that I did have cancer because the X-ray showed several growths.
“The weeks that followed were full of a lot of ‘why me’ tears; I would fill my drive to work with plans of how I would tell my family the news and mostly worrying about how ugly I would look with no hair.
“This was the point where I realised why people are secretive about things like this. It is obviously so reassuring to know I have such a huge support network, but I began to feel like an alien.
“It is not until something of this nature happens to you that you learn the right way to act towards a person going through it.
“People want to be there for you, and that is so kind, but to be so upset that I actually end up consoling them over the situation is frustrating and you leave the conversation feeling down yourself.
“I have now replaced the ‘why me’ tears with a strong trust in my journey; I have fully come to terms with the fact I am battling cancer at age twenty-two and it truly has taught me so much.
“Yes, I feel like cancer has stolen a year of my life. But, Hodgkin’s is curable. I am being cured; my recent scans show no remaining tumours after only two cycles of Adriamycin bleomycin vinblastine dacarbazine (ABVD) chemotherapy.
“I still have to go through the full six months of chemo to ensure that they have got it all. But I believe everything happens for a reason. That reason being I will grab life with both hands after all of this.
“I believe my future would have been entirely different had I not been faced with this at such a young age. I used to be so comfortably numb, but now I feel everything with such passion.”
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a rare cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body.
Around 1,900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the UK every year. It is unknown what the exact cause of this cancer is but your risk of developing it is increased if; you have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, you take immunosuppressant medication, or you’ve previously been exposed to a common virus called Epstein-Barr virus that causes glandular fever.
In order to confirm a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is by carrying out a biopsy. It is also one of the most easily treated types of cancer.
“I have wasted so much time looking for wigs, trips to London, entering competitions, endless meetings and conversations with The Little Princess Trust trying to find the perfect wig,” she said.
“But one day I realised why am I trying to cover up the fact that I am fighting the hardest battle of my life so far?
“It took me a long time to realise that cancer isn’t something to be embarrassed of, but actually a battle to be proud I am fighting.
“I feel so much more confident now that I am not trying to conceal my cancer, and I am helping so many other young people fighting cancer to feel the same.
“To know that sharing my struggle is helping and inspiring so many others has made me realise that there was a reason for all of this; and my purpose is to share and spread awareness.
“I also rely heavily on my family to look after me, I have had to learn to let go of my independence a little and be driven around and cooked for.”
Olivia says that the hardest part of the process has been changing her mindset to be positive but sharing her journey with the public has helped her come to terms with her illness.
“The mental aspect of this has been the hardest part by a mile. This week I feel I’ve made the most progress I’ve made yet so far,” she said.
“Sometimes you don’t have to step forward to make progress, sometimes sitting still is the best progress.
“The truth so many people miss is that happiness doesn’t start with a relationship, with a degree or with the perfect job. Happiness is realising what a precious privilege it is to be alive.
“Sometimes there will be sadness and struggle in our lives but we must realise the beauty, we must keep putting one foot in front of the other because you never know what’s around the bend.”
“Make peace with your past and don’t let it spoil the present. I am lucky enough to be given another chance at life. I have fallen apart and oh boy am I putting the pieces back together differently.”
For more information visit: https://www.instagram.com/oliviarosesmithx/