A man has opened up online about his experience battling lymphoma in the hope he encourages others to visit the doctors as soon as they spot a warning sign.
33-year-old Jake McCarty from California, America, was diagnosed at the end of last year with Hodgkins Lymphoma, an uncommon form of cancer which develops in the lymphatic system, an important part of the immune system.
As Jake exclusively told UNILAD though, his story with the disease started a decade ago when he was in his mid-20’s.
For about 10 years Jake had a swelling in his neck which doctors diagnosed as mononucleosis, better known as ‘mono’.
During his last visit to the doctor to make sure the mono had gone, Jake was told to get a biopsy done but didn’t. He justified the decision by convincing himself he ‘felt fine’.
As the swelling increased in the left side of his neck another lump developed, and in September 2017 Jake started experiencing excruciating headaches.
At this point alarm bells began ringing as Jake had experienced these headaches a year prior and was concerned they had returned.
Admitting he ‘would do anything to avoid going to a doctor’, Jake just tried to quell the pain the best he could but soon felt ‘hopeless’ as it became increasingly severe.
Eventually Jake went to the doctor as he saw how worried his then-fiancée was about his health.
He explained to UNILAD:
Soon it was November and the headaches were only getting worse. I’ve always had a high threshold for pain but during this month I was waking up in tears and sobbing in my fiancee’s arms.
While whatever was going on with my health was terrifying, nothing hurt more than the worry that was in her face.
We had been going through several issues in that past year but she was able to put all of that aside to be the most kind and caring that anyone had ever been for me.
Normally I would’ve felt around feeling sorry for myself, but I wanted to stay strong for us. I didn’t want to worry her any more than I already was.
Various doctors informed Jake he was suffering from cluster headaches but when he could no longer keep food down, he returned and a biopsy was scheduled.
In fact, the doctor who recommended a biopsy was shocked it hadn’t been recommended before.
While Jake was told ‘it looks like it could be lymphoma’, he remained unprepared for the potential diagnosis not realising the gravity of the situation.
He explained why:
I was so used to these visits ending with no answer.
The nurse came in to discharge me after I had stewed in my thoughts for 10 minutes and I finally broke down and asked her ‘is it fatal?’
She caught me off guard by embracing me and telling me ‘well sweetheart, that’s what we’re going to find out.’
I told my dad what was said, downplaying everything of course, because I don’t think I was ready to accept it.
I didn’t want to tell my fiancée. I didn’t want to tell my parents. I didn’t want the extra attention. All I wanted to do was get rid of those f*cking headaches.
When Jake received his diagnosis, he realised he was ‘extremely fortunate’ as Hodgkins Lymphoma has a higher survival rate than Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
While this gave Jake some ‘much needed optimism’, he also felt slightly ‘guilty’ as he ‘wasn’t appreciating life enough’.
Thankfully for Jake, his lymphoma didn’t go further than his collarbone, although it had taken over nearly the entire left side of his neck.
Jake faced six rounds of chemotherapy with each one lasting around five-to-six hours.
He admits the knowledge chemotherapy was working helped him cope with the side effects:
The effects that I experienced were severe night sweats and some nausea. During treatment itself, everything just seemed to slow down.
Sometimes the most difficult part of treatment was boredom, and finding ways to prevent that boredom. I love to read, but sometimes I was too restless to focus on an entire page.
I like to think that I handled it all well, but I also just felt like a burden.
But I was feeling more energetic and the headache was gone, I will never feel relief like that again in my life. It made going to treatments much easier.
As time went on, the chemicals were accumulating in my system and things were getting more difficult. Luckily I had a healthy appetite, including some bizarre cravings.
The steroids they were giving me on top of the chemo was apparently going to give me side effects similar to a pregnancy. I put on about 40 pounds, which I’m already close to shedding off.
Soon enough the swelling in Jake’s neck also disappeared leaving him ‘feeling like a different person’.
While Jake admits his relationship with his fiancée dissolved at the end of his battle due to other problems, the experience brought him close to his parents who were previously ‘somewhat distant’.
Jake is now in remission and has been for the past couple of months.
Although he still suffers from fatigue and night sweats every now and again, he is remaining positive with ‘each day better than the last’.
He told UNILAD it has changed his outlook on life:
I’m feeling healthier every day, I’ve tried to change my diet and I’ve found some way to be active nearly every day.
It feels good to know that I get to jump right back into life, with a second chance to make as much as I can out of it. I do sometimes fall back into old habits or start feeling cynical, but I’ve managed to keep these moments brief.
I don’t want to disappoint myself and and I don’t want to disappoint friends whose families might not have been so lucky.
Jake shared his story on Reddit wanting to encourage others not to make the same mistakes he did and ensure they both go to and listen to their doctors.
He was very keen to emphasise this point concluding:
After years of avoiding the doctor, visits will be a regular thing now. I go back in six months to make sure that everything is still gone and continue to do so for a while after that.
I won’t stop telling my friends to go to the doctor, even if you feel like something is the tiniest bit off. It’s amazing how resilient we can be when faced with illness, but everyone has a breaking point.
To find out more about lymphoma, you can visit Lymphoma Action’s website. To speak to someone, you can call their helpline on 0808 808 5555.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.