A 25-year-old woman was diagnosed with advanced cancer when sipping on wine triggered painful itching down her arm and neck.
Lauren Firenza, of Nottingham, noticed a tingling sensation while at a family party in December last year.
After months of blood tests, X-rays and scans, Miss Firenza was referred to a specialist in March, who identified a lump on her right lung.
A biopsy the following month revealed she had stage four Hodgkin lymphoma. Painful lymph nodes, itching and abdominal discomfort after drinking alcohol are common symptoms of the disease.
Miss Firenza, who ‘works in social media’, underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, which she endured for four days at a time over three months.
She was given the all-clear in June but still requires two rounds of chemo to prevent the disease coming back.
Lauren Firenza (left) was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma when sipping on wine at a party triggered painful itching down her arm and neck. She is pictured right during one of her six rounds of chemotherapy, which she endured for four days at a time over three months
She cut her hair short before she starting chemo in an attempt to stay in control of the side effects as best she could. After her second round of the treatment, she shaved it all off
Miss Firenza first noticed her arm and neck were tingling while drinking wine over dinner with friends in September last year.
‘I’d be going out with my friends for dinner and we’d have some wine, and I started to get these tingling pains down my neck and then it went down my right arm and to my fingertips,’ she said.
‘It started off like a post-gym, sauna, kind of pain so I was thinking, “oh maybe I’ve just got a cold”.
‘I wasn’t really the type of person to go to the doctors unless it was really bad so I pushed it off all the way until December.’
When her symptoms occurred again at a family gathering over the festive season, Miss Firenza booked to see her GP.
‘The whole of January, February and March was just blood tests, scans, X-rays,’ she said.
‘Then I was at my doctor’s and he said he had done everything but couldn’t work out what it was so he referred me to the hospital for a specialist to review me.’
Miss Firenza was admitted to hospital, where medics performed a CT scan.
‘Straight away they found a lump in the right side of my chest and right lung,’ she said.
‘I kind of didn’t even think it was cancer at first, I just thought, “oh okay what is it? Can we just cut it out?”.
To her surprise, doctors delivered the devastating news she had advanced cancer.
‘As soon as they told me, the waiting game, which was the worst part, was over,’ she said. ‘Now we could put a plan together to get rid of it.’
Miss Firenza (left) was given the all-clear in June but still requires two rounds of chemo to prevent the disease coming back. She would even dress up for her chemo sessions (seen right) and have her nails done to help boost her self-esteem while she battled the disease
Pictured before she became ill, Miss Firenza thought she was just run down when the tingling sensation first occurred during dinner with friends in September last year. Not wanting to go to her GP unnecessarily, she ignored her symptoms until they occurred again three months later
Miss Firenza, who used to only wear black and white, invested in a pink tracksuit (left) to lift her mood during chemo. She was given the all-clear in June but still has to endure two round of chemo to prevent the disease returning. Miss Firenza (right) hopes to get back to a normal life
Miss Firenza maintained a positive mindset throughout her cancer battle to stop it ‘taking over’
CAN ALCOHOL SET OFF HODGKIN LYMPHOMA SYMPTOMS?
Some patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, which affects the lymphatic system, report having painful lymph nodes after drinking alcohol.
Itching and abdominal pain or vomiting after alcohol are also common symptoms of the disease.
It is unclear exactly how alcohol triggers this discomfort.
It may be that alcohol causes blood vessels within the lymph nodes to dilate.
This then leads to a decrease in blood pressure.
This may then trigger the release of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are normally released in response to injury or illness.
They cause inflammation, pain and fever as part of the healing process.
Alcohol is not thought to trigger symptoms in other types of cancer.
Concerned the aggressive treatment could affect her fertility, Miss Firenza arranged to have her eggs frozen the day after she was diagnosed.
She also cut her hair short before starting chemo in an attempt to stay in control of the side effects as best she could. After her second round of treatment, she shaved her hair off.
‘My mindset throughout the whole thing was to keep control of the cancer, don’t let it control you,’ she said.
Miss Firenza even dressed up for her chemo sessions to boost her self esteem.
‘I’d get my nails done,’ she said. ‘It honestly does make a difference because after six hours and you’ve got another bag of chemo to go, you’re just like, “ahh glittery”.
‘If you dress up for it, it makes you feel better about yourself.’
With still two rounds of chemo to go, Miss Firenza is looking forward to getting back to ‘real life’ but knows she will have to take things slowly.
‘I’ve got some holidays booked and a festival,’ she said.
‘But I am now in the mindset of I don’t know how I’ll be after chemo and I don’t know if I’ll still be tired or if I’ll get my energy back.
‘I think it’s going to be a slow recovery but at the same time, I am ready to get back into that normal thing.’
Miss Firenza is speaking out to encourage other cancer sufferers to stay positive.
‘It’s okay to have a down day but you’ve got to pick yourself back up because you’ve got to keep fighting it,’ she said.
‘Don’t let cancer define you. It is doable going through chemo.
‘Surround yourself with a really strong positive support system, with your friends and family.’
Find out more at Miss Firenza’s Instagram account @glowing.withtheflow
The feisty 25-year-old is looking forward to going on holiday but knows she must take it slow
She is speaking out to inspire other cancer patients to stay strong during treatment
WHAT IS LYMPHOMA?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes, which is the body’s disease-fighting network.
That network consists of the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes and thymus gland.
There are various types of lymphoma, but two main ones: non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s.
Both have much better prognoses than many types of cancer.
WHAT IS HODGKIN’S LYMPHOMA?
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the white blood cells. It is named after Thomas Hodgkin, an English doctor who first identified the disease in 1832.
It affects around 1,950 people each year in the UK, and 8,500 a year in the US.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most common between the ages of 20 and 24, and 75 and 79.
Five-year survival rates:
The survival rates are much more favorable than most other cancers.
- Stage 1: 90%
- Stage 2: 90%
- Stage 3: 80%
- Stage 4: 65%
- a painless swelling in the armpits, neck and groin
- heavy night sweating
- extreme weight loss
- shortness of breath
- lowered immunity
- a family history of the condition
- those who are overweight
- stem cell or bone marrow transplants
WHAT IS NON-HODKIN’S LYMPHOMA?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur anywhere in the body but is usually first noticed in the lymph nodes around sufferers’ necks.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects around 13,700 new people every year in the UK. In the US, more than 74,600 people are diagnosed annually.
It is more common in males than females, and it is commonly diagnosed either in a patient’s early 20s or after the age of 55.
Five-year survival rates:
Survival can vary widely with NHL.
The general survival rate for five years is 70 percent, and the chance of living 10 years is approximately 60 percent.
- Painless swellings in the neck, armpit or groin
- Heavy night sweating
- Unexplained weight loss of more than one-tenth of a person’s body
- over 75
- have a weak immune system
- suffer from celiac disease
- have a family history of the condition
- have had other types of cancer
It depends on the number and locations of the body affected by Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Therapy typically includes chemotherapy.