Young woman diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 20 – and how a suspected UTI saved her life

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Young woman diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 20 – and how a suspected UTI saved her life

A suspected UTI saved Olivia Jennings' life.The 20-year-old had been struggling 'with the flu' for a few months before she went to the doctor and was

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A suspected UTI saved Olivia Jennings’ life.

The 20-year-old had been struggling ‘with the flu‘ for a few months before she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a late-stage blood cancer.

The otherwise ‘perfectly healthy’ young woman struggled with the symptoms in the months leading up to her devastating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis.

Speaking to FEMAL, Olivia explained her symptoms began in October 2022 when she started to feel fatigued and rundown. She had lower backpain and a lingering cough she thought would eventually go away. 

She also had a small lump above her left collarbone which was painful to touch.

Eventually when she couldn’t shake off the uncomfortable symptoms, the young Melbourne woman went to her GP for answers.

A simple blood tests showed her inflammatory markers were high, indicating something was wrong so she was tested for a UTI.

‘One night when I was getting ready to go out my doctor called to let me know the sample came back indicating there was a UTI present, which was strange because I didn’t have any symptoms of one at all,’ Olivia, now 21, said. 

‘She said with these results she would usually send someone to emergency, but I didn’t want to go. So I started antibiotics.’

The next morning she woke up with sweats and eventually went to a private ER.

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Olivia Jennings, from Melbourne, was working in retail and studying naturopathy when she was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin's Lymphoma on January 25

Olivia Jennings, from Melbourne, was working in retail and studying naturopathy when she was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin's Lymphoma on January 25

Olivia Jennings, from Melbourne, was working in retail and studying naturopathy when she was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on January 25 

From October 2022, she felt fatigued, rundown, had lower backpain and a lingering cough she thought would eventually go away. She also had a small lump above her left collarbone which was painful to touch

From October 2022, she felt fatigued, rundown, had lower backpain and a lingering cough she thought would eventually go away. She also had a small lump above her left collarbone which was painful to touch

From October 2022, she felt fatigued, rundown, had lower backpain and a lingering cough she thought would eventually go away. She also had a small lump above her left collarbone which was painful to touch

Doctors thought she had a UTI but a CT scan detected she had cancer

Doctors thought she had a UTI but a CT scan detected she had cancer

'It was complete shock - when he mentioned my heart I thought 'that's it for me, I'm going to die,' Olivia said

'It was complete shock - when he mentioned my heart I thought 'that's it for me, I'm going to die,' Olivia said

Doctors thought she had a UTI but a CT scan detected she had cancer. ‘It was complete shock – when he mentioned my heart I thought ‘that’s it for me, I’m going to die,’ Olivia said 

‘At the ER the doctor said he had just had a kidney stone himself that only showed up on a CT scan and he was in a similar pain I was in,’ Olivia said. 

What symptoms did Olivia have? 

Olivia first noticed her symptoms in October 2022 – three months before her prognosis 

She experienced a variety of symptoms including lower back pain, fatigue, a cough that ‘wouldn’t go away’ 

A lump ‘smaller than the size of a 10c coin’ appeared above her left collarbone 

The night before she visited a doctor she also had night sweats  

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While everything looked fine on ultrasound result, the doctor was eager to conduct a CT scan to rule out anything sinister.

The doctor walked back in ‘looking pale’ and said ‘it’s not looking good’. 

‘He said I don’t have a kidney stone but I have swollen lymph nodes all throughout my stomach and fluid on my heart as well,’ she said. 

‘It was complete shock – when he mentioned my heart I thought ‘that’s it for me, I’m going to die’. At that point the doctors were pretty sure it was cancer.’

Olivia had to wait 45 minutes in emergency before being transferred to a hospital where she waited 24 hours in the ward for an available bed. 

She spent a week in hospital where doctors conducted further tests, including a biopsy that determined she had cancer in her neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. 

It was on January 25 when she was officially diagnosed with the blood cancer – a Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. 

‘I immediately knew what type of cancer it was because it’s the same one that Delta Goodrem had,’ she said. 

‘I always tell people my life feels like a movie because everything was perfect and it kind of feels like a bit of a nightmare now.’  

Olivia was given the devastating news in hospital with her mum by her side. She didn’t know how to react. 

‘It was a strange feeling and for some reason the first thing that came to my mind was “I never got to get married”, which is something I didn’t realise I cared so much about,’ she said. 

Olivia kept her spirits high in hospital by making jokes.

Doctors say she was lucky to catch the cancer when she did as it was on the brink of spreading further through the body. 

‘At first doctors thought it was stage four but the day I started chemotherapy they confirmed it was stage 3B,’ she said.

Luckily she went to the doctor when she did because the blood cancer was on the brink of spreading elsewhere in the body

Luckily she went to the doctor when she did because the blood cancer was on the brink of spreading elsewhere in the body

Luckily she went to the doctor when she did because the blood cancer was on the brink of spreading elsewhere in the body

What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The disease begins in a lymph node, usually in the neck, then spreads through the lymphatic system from one group of lymph nodes to another.

Hodgkin lymphoma represents roughly 0.5 percent of all cancers diagnosed in Australia. About 11 percent of all lymphomas are types of Hodgkin lymphoma, while the remainder are non-Hodgkin.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may arise in lymph nodes anywhere in the body, whereas Hodgkin lymphoma typically begins in the upper body, such as the neck, chest or armpits.

Hodgkin lymphoma is often diagnosed at an early stage and is therefore considered one of the most treatable cancers.

Approximately 600 people in Australia are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma every year, most commonly younger people aged 15 ¿ 29 and older people over the age of 65. It is more common in men than women.  

Source: Lymphoma Australia

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A week after being told she probably had a UTI the young woman was starting her first round of chemotherapy.

‘Doctors wouldn’t wait for me to collect any eggs so they put me into temporary menopause so my eggs won’t become damaged during treatment,’ she said. 

‘I had no time to think or process everything that was happening.’

Olivia has been receiving treatment for five months and has just three sessions left.

She said after the first two months the cancer ‘was almost gone’ and she won’t need to have any surgery to ‘finish the job’. 

Prior to being diagnosed Olivia said she used to work out four times a week, has never smoked a cigarette, barely drank alcohol and ate healthy most of the time. 

She also has no history of cancer in her immediate family. 

‘Doctors pretty much said it doesn’t matter what I did lifestyle wise, it’s just one of those things where I couldn’t have prevented this from happening,’ she said. 

‘It’s just one of those cancers where you body just messes up, which is quite frustrating but thankfully I was in good position to go through chemo because I’ve been taking such good care of my body.’ 

As for the side effects of the treatment, Olivia has been experiencing full body aches and pains, fatigue, sickness, pain and hair loss. 

‘When my hair started falling out I really thought I would be upset about it, but I wasn’t. I had long, blonde hair and it’s all gone,’ she said.

Pictured before prognosis

Pictured before prognosis

Pictured now

Pictured now

Over the past five months Olivia has been going through treatment and has three sessions left. And after the first two months alone the cancer was ‘almost gone’.

Olivia hasn’t been working or studying since becoming unwell but has made money renting out dresses from her wardrobe.

She has around 20 outfits available with a few constantly in rotation every week, making Olivia anywhere between $60-$100. 

‘It gives me something to do and I like organising it all – I even donate some of the money to charity,’ she said.

Olivia hopes her story will raise awareness about this cancer commonly known as a ‘young person’s disease’.

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