Melbourne woman’s sore throat was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

A healthy woman who had no other symptoms besides a sore throat was shocked to learn she had cancer.

When Renee Wooten felt a tickle in the back of her throat, she thought maybe it was the start of an attack of tonsillitis – something she had experienced a few times before.

As the days passed, the 29-year-old said her pain got worse and she started to feel like she had food stuck in the back of her throat.

Glancing with a torch at her tonsils, she was puzzled to see a lump – so in October 2021 she decided to see a doctor.

“I had a little twinge in the back of my throat, but I didn’t really think about it,” Ms Wooten told news.com.au.

“I thought it might be the start of tonsillitis. That night it was still there and I felt like I had food in the back of my throat.

“I looked, and there was a lump, and I thought ‘yeah, that’s not normal’.

“I was a little worried, but I didn’t think it was anything.

“In my mind, I was healthy. I didn’t drink or smoke, I eat really healthy, I try to limit the toxins in my life, I work out.

“I sent a photo to my family and they urged me to see a doctor.”

When Renae made an appointment to see a doctor, she was immediately told that it was not tonsillitis and she was referred to a throat specialist.

After undergoing further tests, Renae received the shocking news that she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This is a type of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system that fights germs.

“The doctor said it could be a ruptured cyst or angina, so I was given antibiotics and told to come back in 48 hours,” she explained. .

“But overnight the lump got bigger, so I went to the hospital. They gave me a biopsy and a CT scan.

“When I left the hospital, they originally booked me to come back 10 days later, but I got a call to come earlier.

“I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Specifically, anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma which was ALK positive. It’s very rare.

“Because of COVID, I was alone when I received the news, which was difficult.

“That moment is very blurry, I went numb. I remember saying it was impossible.

“And they said it was just bad luck, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it.”

After being hit with such a devastating blow, Renae recalls feeling “guilty” due to the perceived burden she felt it would place on others.

“My partner called me and I burst into tears. I felt really guilty,” she recalled.

“I had seen the horror stories of cancer and the toll it can have on loved ones.

“We were both very young, and I told him that you didn’t have to stay with me.

“It broke my heart, but I knew I had to give him the chance to leave. It wasn’t fair to him.

“But he kept saying he wasn’t going anywhere. And he didn’t.”

While Renae had yet to have children, she said she had always dreamed of being a mother.

Due to the effect chemotherapy can have on a woman’s fertility, Renae has taken steps to have some of her eggs retrieved so she can have a baby in the future.

“My specialist was so lovely and I felt safe with him every step of the way,” she said.

“He told me that my cancer is very rare and very aggressive. He gave me the plan and totally agreed.

“My specialist spoke to an IVF clinic and we started the egg collection process.

“It was crazy, because 10 days before that I would be living a normal life.

“Then I was diagnosed with cancer and I was having my eggs collected.

“It was wild. It didn’t feel real.”

Renae underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy as part of her treatment.

Doctors told her it was going to cause her hair to fall out, so she decided to remove it before it happened naturally.

“I never wanted to be a victim of it and I didn’t want it to control my life,” she said.

“Every round was different. At the start, I was quite naive.

“I thought I’m a healthy person, it won’t affect me, I won’t have any side effects.

“They told me right away, Renae, you’re going to lose your hair. It was really difficult for me, because I had long, beautiful hair.

“My first round was a breeze. Round 2 I passed the treatment, but that night I kept throwing up.

“Then my hair started falling out, so we buzzed it.

“I started doing acupuncture and I never threw up after that. It helped so much.

“By round 4 I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. I didn’t want to do it anymore.

“After that round, we did some scans and found out the cancer was completely gone and I was in remission.

“But I still had to do the last two rounds of chemo just to be sure.”

Renae said the experience made her appreciate life more than ever.

She also urges young people to always ask for help if something is wrong.

“You have to trust your instincts and go to the doctor if something is wrong,” she said.

“Having cancer changed me as a person. It made me appreciate life and take nothing for granted.

“It gave me a lot of ‘blessings,’ which is my word for lessons and blessings.

“I know cancer can be a dark and horrible thing, but that’s not always the case.

Renae has since started a podcast to get in touch with other young people who have gone through serious health problems such as cancer.

September is blood cancer awareness montha moment of awareness of the different types of blood cancers.

Originally published as Terrifying diagnosis behind healthy 29-year-old woman’s ‘sore throat’