Ashley Iwanski, diagnosed at 18

At age 18, while spending the summer getting ready for college, I started developing hives. This wasn’t normal for me, so I went to my doctor. He put me on a steroid and said it would go away once I was settled into school. Since my doctor didn’t give me a specific timeline or instructions for tracking the rash, I was hopeful it would go away on its own and didn’t think to question the prognosis any further.

I moved to campus and started classes a few weeks later, but soon found that I was constantly exhausted – despite taking 3 hour naps every day and going to bed by 9 or 10 PM every night. When I spoke to my mom she agreed that this was unusual for me, but chalked it up to being busy and adjusting to a new environment. The hives got worse to the point where I was embarrassed to go out and I was constantly running home to take Benadryl. But since I was still within my doctor’s timeline of “settling in,” I figured it would go away if I just waited.

“It is so important to know how you feel when you feel great and use the 2-week rule if you notice a change in your health—don’t just ignore it!”

While sitting in class one day I was feeling my collar bone out of boredom and discovered a bump in my neck. I went to the campus nurse who suggested I monitor it for a week and come back if it didn’t get smaller. A couple of days later, when I began experiencing unbearable pain in my shoulder, I knew something weird was going on and went to the hospital walk-in clinic. The nurse initially assumed I had pulled a muscle at the gym, but when I told her about the bump on my neck, she took my concerns more seriously and ordered a blood test, and later an X-Ray. At my follow-up appointment, the doctors showed me that the lump I felt was connected to a mass that extended from my collarbone down to my ribs. I was referred to an oncologist and had a biopsy a week later.

I was diagnosed with Stage II Lymphoma. I went through 12 rounds of chemo, which resulted in me losing my hair, but luckily I am currently in complete remission!

I am thankful that I shared information with the nurse about the lump in my neck. When I learned that the cancerous mass had been growing for 6 weeks, it hit me that the hives had started 6 weeks before that—and it made me question a lot of the other symptoms that I had before. My advice for other people reading my story is, tune into your health to be aware of what is normal for you. It is so important to know how you feel when you feel great and use the 2-week rule if you notice a change in your health—don’t just ignore it!

Symptoms

  • hives
  • exhaustion
  • felt lump on neck
  • severe pain in shoulder