By Alyce Collins
THIS TWENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD had no idea that her COUGH was anything serious until after noticing numbness in her left arm she visited her doctor and found out the cause was STAGE FOUR CANCER.
Translator, Magdalena Bujalski (22) from Winnipeg, Canada, developed a cough at the end of January 2019, but with it being winter, getting ill seemed normal. Magdalena later noticed that her left arm kept falling asleep throughout the day which she initially thought was because she’d been leaning on it too much, but while getting dressed she noticed that her arm was swollen and discoloured.
The swelling hadn’t changed by the following day, so Magdalena decided to go to a walk-in clinic to get it looked at. The doctor was a bit concerned by Magdalena’s symptoms and sent her for an X-ray and blood tests. The X-ray highlighted that there was something on her right lung and the white blood cell count was high, which indicated that her body was fighting something off. Due to Magdalena’s cough, the doctor diagnosed her with bronchitis and prescribed a course of antibiotics and told Magdalena to have another X-ray once she finished the medication to ensure the mass was gone.
After finishing the antibiotics, Magdalena’s cough had gone and her arm was no longer swollen, so she almost opted against having another X-ray, but thankfully she went with the doctor’s suggestion. The second X-ray showed that there was still something there and she went for a CT scan which located a mass on her right lung.
A surgical biopsy had to be performed to cut off a piece of the mass so it could be tested. On March 15, 2019, Magdalena was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and the cancer cells were spreading to her neck. The tumour was less than an inch in diameter at the first CT scan, but when ahead of chemotherapy three weeks later, it was three-and-a-half inches in diameter.
“One day I noticed that my left arm felt odd, like it was falling asleep,” said Magdalena.
“I assumed that it was because I was constantly leaning on it while sitting in my office chair at work. Then one evening when I went to the gym, I noticed that when I took my shirt off my left arm was swollen and discoloured.
“I had a really bad cough at the time, but as it was winter in Canada, that was nothing unusual.
“I wasn’t too sure what was going on with the swelling, so I decided that if it persisted, I would go to a walk-in clinic the next day. That’s exactly what I did. The doctor sent me for an X-ray and blood work.
“The X-ray showed that there was something on my lung and the blood test showed that my white blood cell count was elevated, meaning that my body was fighting off some sort of infection. The doctor thought it was mild bronchitis or some other lung infection, so she prescribed me some antibiotics.
“She also told me to get another X-ray once I finished the antibiotics to make sure the infection was gone. I finished the antibiotics, and the swelling and the cough had gone away, so I almost didn’t want to go for that X-ray but luckily, I did.
“The X-ray showed that there was still something there, so I was sent for a CT scan. The CT scan confirmed that there was a mass on my right lung and then I had the biopsy to figure out what the tumour was.
“The biopsy was a full-on surgery because in order to know what the tumour was, they needed to cut a piece of it off to send it for testing. Because of the location of the tumour, a needle biopsy was not a possibility and due to the location of the tumour, the surgery was very tricky. The surgeon wasn’t sure whether it would be easy to access the tumour safely.
“Their plan was to make a cut on my chest above my right breast, and if it wasn’t successful then they would make another cut by my ribs. Luckily, they were able to access the tumour from the incision on my chest.
“Soon after, in March I was diagnosed with stage four primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, which is a rare form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. There was a big tumour in my chest and the cancer was already spreading to my neck.
“I was shocked because I was always healthy and worked hard to take care of myself. I exercised regularly and ate healthily. Not to mention, I’m only 22! It all seemed like a bad dream.
“My family was shocked and sad. Cancer does run in my family however, usually at a much older age.”
Since discovering she has stage four cancer, Magdalena has had to put much of her life on hold and hasn’t been able to work since April. However, in an effort to remain positive, she has shifted her focus to sharing her journey on Instagram, @magsbujalski, and on YouTube.
Using social media has allowed Magdalena to raise awareness for cancer in young adults, something many people think doesn’t happen. As her form of cancer is so rare, Magdalena struggled for answers to help her process her diagnosis, so her hope is for her videos to help anyone else who wants to know what to expect.
“I was sent to an oncologist right away and just over a week later I began chemotherapy. Initially the tumour was under an inch, but I had a second CT scan before starting chemotherapy and it showed that the tumour had grown to three-and-a-half inches in three weeks,” said Magdalena.
“The plan was to do six cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy, having infusions every three weeks.
“Currently I’m coping well and some days I surprise myself with how normal I feel. It has been hard on my body, especially now that it’s been through many rounds of chemotherapy and has had a lot of drugs in it. I am trying my best to stay positive and move forward.
“Cancer has put a pause on my life as I haven’t been able to work. Although I try my best to still live a regular life, there are many activities that I can’t do. Cancer has given me the opportunity to learn many new things such as how to film and edit videos, how to use YouTube.
“Social media has given me an outlet and something to focus my attention on while I’m unable to work. It has also given me the opportunity to meet so many people, including other cancer patients, survivors and people who are willing to offer their advice and support.
“My form of cancer is so rare, yet thanks to Instagram I’ve met people who have the same rare lymphoma as me. Thanks to this, I can ask them questions, compare treatments and side effects. Furthermore, being able to follow other cancer survivors’ journeys on Instagram has given me hope and motivation that soon I will be a survivor and thriving.
“My diagnosis came out of nowhere, so I want to show people that just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re invincible.
“Cancer is obviously very sad, but it’s possible to fight it in a positive manner and try to make the best of the situation. I want other fighters to know that they aren’t alone in this. When I was diagnosed, I turned to YouTube for answers. I searched ‘when will my hair fall out?’, ‘what will I look like?’, ‘what is chemotherapy and how do I receive it?’.
“I felt more comfort and calm once I watched a few videos and talked to a few cancer survivors, so I decided that I wanted to be that comfort for others. If watching my videos helps others see what to expect, then I would be willing to put my entire journey out there.”
To see more, visit Magdalen’s Instagram page: www.instagram.com/magsbujalski