By Rebecca Drew
A NIGHT out with the girls lead to a STAGE FOUR CANCER diagnosis for this woman when her arm went numb after a sip of wine prompting her to visit her doctor – and after later opting to take an AGGRESSIVE form of chemo with a NINETY FIVE PER CENT success rate she has finally received the ALL CLEAR and she puts it down to remaining positive and KEEPING IT GLAM.
In September 2018, Lauren Firenza (25) from Nottingham, UK, noticed whilst drinking wine with dinner that she started to get tingling pains down her neck and right arm. Initially Lauren shrugged off her symptoms just thinking she was run down with a cold after a busy summer but in December whilst at a family party, Lauren’s whole right arm went numb after a sip of alcohol so she booked an appointment with her GP to find out what was going on.
After three months of blood tests, x-rays and scans which came back abnormal, Lauren was referred to hospital to see a specialist in March where she was sent for a CT scan that showed a lump on the right side of her chest and on her right lung. She was sent for biopsies and then in early April, Lauren was told she had stage four Hodgkin Lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system.
Lauren was determined to not let her cancer diagnosis take control of her life so the next day she went to the fertility clinic to start the two-week process to freeze her eggs as she was warned chemotherapy would reduce her fertility. As well as this Lauren decided to cut her hair gradually shorter, donating it to the Little Princess Trust, before treatment started to pre-empt her hair falling out. After her second round of chemo, she shaved all her hair off.
Lauren opted for intense BEACOPP chemotherapy which is treatment with a 95 per cent success rate, over four days for six rounds which lasts three months so that she could get back to living her normal life as soon as possible.
She was given the all clear in June 2019 but still has to undergo two rounds of chemo to prevent relapse. Despite this, Lauren has not let cancer define her on the way, sharing her journey on Instagram, @glowing.withtheflow, and YouTube, @glowingwiththeflow to show others that they don’t have to lose their sense of self or style and can rock cancer after seeing only outdated and sad images in leaflets.
“It was actually alcohol that told me something was wrong. Basically, I’d be going out with my friends for dinner and we’d have some wine and I started to get these tingling pains down my neck and then it went down my right arm and to my fingertips,” said Lauren.
“It started off like a post gym, sauna, that kind of pain so I was thinking oh maybe I’ve just got a cold and I wasn’t really the type of person to go to the doctors unless it was really bad so I pushed it off all the way until December. I was at a family party and it got so bad that my whole right arm would go numb after just a sip of alcohol.
“It got so extreme that I really needed to know what was going on. The whole of January, February and March was just blood tests, scans, x-rays. Then I was at my doctor’s and he said that he had done everything but couldn’t work out what it was so he referred me to the hospital for a specialist to review me.
“As soon as I went to hospital they sent me for a CT scan and straight away they found a lump in the right side of my chest and right lung and said that they shouldn’t be there. I kind of didn’t even think it was cancer at first, I just thought, ‘Oh ok what is it? Can we just cut it out?’
“As soon as they told me, this is what you’ve got stage four Hodgkin Lymphoma and the waiting game which was the worst part and three months of blood tests and scans was over, now we could put a plan together to get rid of it. The next day I went to the fertility clinic.
“My mindset throughout the whole thing was to keep control of the cancer, don’t let it control you. There’s no reason why it needs to, it’s just a big scary word that actually you can take control of and that’s what I did.
“It is daunting to have cancer but at the same time, it is literally no bigger deal than having a cold. If you just think of it like that it just puts it into a much smaller scale and you can totally overcome it. If I can just share that with people of my age because you get given these leaflets but they’re just quite outdated and full of sad images and stuff like that but actually if you make it glam and you don’t lose your sense of style and self, you can totally rock cancer.”
Fighting cancer has given Lauren the time to reflect on who she is and she always makes sure that she dresses up for her chemo appointments, she spoke about how sharing her journey on social media and maintaining a positive approach, even through the difficult times has helped her.
“Remember that everything is temporary and you are in control of everything. Surround yourself with a really strong positive support system with your friends and family and I’m really lucky that I’ve got such a close family and friends who are all so positive and trying to encourage me,” said Lauren.
“It’s ok to have a down day and I realise that but also you’ve got to realise that you’ve got to pick yourself back up because you’ve got to keep fighting it.
“Documenting it for me has been a massive way to keep track of and process it for myself but also to connect with other people who have a similar thing. My ‘Glowingwiththeflow’ page was setup and the amount of people who support you from friends to the amount of people who you’ve never met but are going through similar things is really important.
“It’s very easy to feel lonely in this situation if you don’t have the right people around you and I definitely feel like if you can prevent that and surround yourself with people who only encourage you to get through and not be negative that makes a massive difference.
“Keeping a sense of yourself and style is really important because at the end of the day, cancer doesn’t define you. You were yourself before you had cancer, and you can still be yourself after.
“Finding things like the matching pink trackies was just great, I never really used to wear much colour and I used to be such a rock chick and I loved my black and whites but I just thought that if I’ve got this time now to really reflect on who I am and stuff why not bring in a bit of colour?
“I get my nails done which as well I never used to do. I’ve got sparkly nails right now and it honestly does make a difference because you look down at chemo after like six hours and you’ve got another bag of chemo to go, you’re just like, ‘ahh glittery’.
“Making chemo not your enemy and actually making it turn into a thing that’s going to be a healer for you is really important. If you dress up for it, it makes you feel better about yourself. If you put on a little bit of makeup, don’t get me wrong, sometimes you don’t want to but I still try to put my makeup on and stuff just because when you look in the mirror, you’re not like, ‘urgh, I feel rubbish’, you’re actually like, ‘oh I’m in control and I’ve got this’.
“The challenge for me was just finding that balance between normality and really starting to get through cancer and chemo. Secondly, for me, is finding out that my cancer is gone but I still have to have two more rounds of chemo to prevent relapse.”
After her final rounds of chemo, Lauren is looking forward to being able to get her life back on track but knows that she will have to listen to her body as part of her ongoing recovery.
“I do have to take it slower than normal. I’ll be going into phased working, maybe I’ll have a month’s break, but my work has been absolutely incredibly supportive,” she said.
“In terms of actual fun plans, I’ve got some holidays booked which will be nice but resting, chilled holidays and a festival as well but again, it’s going back to I’ve got all these plans but I am now in the mindset of I don’t know how I’ll be after chemo and I don’t know if I’ll still be tired or if I’ll get my energy back.
“I think it’s going to be a slow recovery but at the same time, I am ready to get back into that normal thing.
“Don’t let cancer define you, it is a scary thing but at the end of the day you can have mind over matter with it. It is doable going through chemo and stuff like that but just make sure you’ve got lots of friends and family supporting you and take control of it as much as you can because there’s no reason why it should take control of you.
“It’s there but it could be like a cold, just because it’s called cancer, it could just be like a virus and that’s how I like to think of it. You can take control and mind over matter.”