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Hollyann was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 24 years old. Now 27, she is on her second line of chemotherapy following surgery and immunotherapy. She currently works with Macmillan and volunteers to raise awareness surrounding cancer.
At the end of 2014, I went through a horrendous reaction from taking an arthritis drug. It left me with less hair, problems with eczema, a swollen spleen, a liver that needed to heal, and skin that looked incredibly pale. Months later (August 2015), still in pain with my arthritic knee, I opted to have a steroid injection in order to ease the pain and reduce the swelling. Oddly enough, I began to notice blood when I went to the toilet just a few weeks after having it but assumed I was spotting as I was on the contraceptive pill. A few weeks passed with little to no change until one night, at the end of September 2015; I woke up to tremendous back pain, and my urine was the colour of Coca Cola.
Originally treated as having a water infection, we requested an ultrasound after a week of antibiotics, and in October a large mass in my left kidney was revealed. Ten days later I was given a CT scan and a few hours after having it, on a Friday evening, I received a call from my urologist to say it was something evil. It was kidney cancer and on Monday I would need to meet with a surgeon as I had a large, 10cm tumour which was classed as stage 3B.
Three weeks later, in November 2015, I had my kidney removed along with surrounding fat and lymph nodes. I was discharged the day before my 25th birthday. I was relieved and although 21 staples were causing me some pain, I felt the best I'd felt in a while.
I continued to improve physically and got used to life with one kidney. I brought in the New Year surrounded by family and looked forward to 2016 - unfortunately, it wasn't quite what I'd hoped for. A biopsy of my tumour in early January revealed my kidney cancer to be made up of two subtypes - renal clear cell carcinoma and papillary type 2, and a scan the following month showed that my cancer had returned, this time in the lymph nodes, with three cancerous ones where my kidney used to lie, one in my sternum, and one under my collar bone. Needless to say, it was a big shock.
And so, I began my next steps towards treatment, opting to begin a clinical trial for immunotherapy at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, which I started in April 2016. Before anything could happen, I chose to have some of my eggs frozen, alongside freezing some embryos with my partner. For six months I visited Clatterbridge every three weeks for treatment, fighting side effects which played havoc with my arthritis, but I couldn't complain! The drug did a fantastic job in terms of shrinking and making the tumours die off. Sadly for me it eventually stopped working and I needed to begin chemotherapy as soon as possible.
Chemotherapy was hard and I seemed to experience most side effects, including having my hair grow white! I felt lonely but over time I became used to the side effects and learnt to manage them. I even began to take more adventures with friends and started learning to live with my cancer. However, just as I started to settle into this drug, a new tumour decided to develop in the muscle surrounding my femur in my right leg. At the same time, I had pneumonia (which left me with pleurisy and a scarred left lung), the creatinine levels in my kidney shot up, and I was leaking protein, causing me to gain 10-12kg in just one week.
With a heavy yet hopeful heart, I began my second line of chemotherapy in September 2017 - a drug that is a more targeted chemotherapy, and in late October 2017 it showed to be keeping the cancer at bay. As I currently await more scan results, I live with the side effects every day - hypothyroidism, hypertension, vomiting, diarrhoea, and hand-foot syndrome are the main ones I battle with, but to me it's worth it. Every stomach cramp and every sleepless night is worth it if it gives me more time in this world.
And with any time I am given I aim to see the world, have many more adventures, and raise awareness.
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