Monday 25 June 2012

How did I know my Hodgkin's Lymphoma relapsed?

In recent years, I've been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on three separate occasions, and whilst you might expect that each time I would have found myself presenting with very similar symptoms, the reality has probably been more different than you would think.  So, in this post, I plan to focus on the latest relapse of the disease; I will go back to the previous diagnoses in separate posts.

I had just been to my three-monthly post-treatment check-up, where all appeared fine, when a couple of days later I started with a cough and some discomfort in my right-hand side just below my rib cage.  At first, I just assumed I'd picked-up some kind of cold, and it would sort itself out within a week or so, but a week later the cough was worse, the discomfort had become quite painful at times, and I also found myself more easily out-of-breath.  At this point, I had a chat with someone at the hospital, who suggested giving it a few more days, and getting back in touch if I wasn't any better.  I did get back in touch a few days later, and the hospital then suggested making an appointment with my G.P., as the pain sounded like a musculoskeletal pain, so the G.P. would be best placed to help.

As it happened, I spoke to the G.P. over the phone that same afternoon, but due to my medical history he wanted to examine me rather than just prescribe some antibiotics for what was in all likelihood a run-of-the-mill chest infection.  I saw the G.P. a couple of hours later for the examination, which highlighted that the air in-take in my right-side was quite low, as there was probably fluid in/around my right lung restricting my breathing; the pain was likely a result of the associated infection in that area.  The G.P. arranged a blood test and x-ray for the next morning, in order to get a clearer picture and determine whether the antibiotics would be strong enough to resolve the problem, or whether I might need some treatment in hospital; The G.P. said to take the next day off work (after which it was the weekend) to get the blood tests and x-ray sorted, as the infection was apparently pretty nasty at this point, i.e. in a couple more days I'd have most likely been in hospital with pneumonia.

After having the blood test, x-ray, and a discussion with my G.P., I ended-up on one of two antibiotics for a couple of weeks, and that pretty much did the trick; the cough had almost gone, the pain in my side had disappeared, and I wasn't finding myself as easily out-of-breath.  I also had another x-ray after completing the antibiotics to check that things now looked better; the intention was to have another x-ray a few weeks later, just to establish a new baseline, i.e. a "normal for me" x-ray.

About three weeks after completing the antibiotics, I noticed that the cough was starting to get worse again, so I asked the hospital about it, and at the same time enquired whether the x-rays I had before and after the antibiotics looked fine.  As it turned-out, the x-ray after the antibiotics didn't really look any better than the x-ray before the antibiotics, so I was asked to come into the hospital a few days later for a check-up.  When I attended the check-up, the doctor asked me a number of questions and listened to my breathing, and was clearly quite concerned, so decided to arrange an "emergency" CT scan to see what was wrong; It seemed like the doctor was quite sure that the cancer had relapsed, but he needed to see a CT scan to remove any doubt.  I had a CT scan the next working day, and the day after that received a call at work to confirm the doctor's suspicions and to admit me to the hospital the next day, so that my treatment could begin as soon as possible.

I had perhaps had some other symptoms typically associated with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in the weeks leading up to the relapse, but it is not easy to say whether they were truly symptoms or not, as they can be quite easily explained and seem quite innocuous; for example, I sometimes found myself itching a bit; my weight had dropped slightly; and during an unexpected week of hot weather (perhaps our summer), when I still had my winter duvet, I had been sweating at night.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea James. good to know whats going on. You are a unlucky bugger, hope all goes well with yet again more chemo! Good luck, wishing you all the best. I am thinking of ya.