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Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: Barber, 26, reveals the warning signs that everyone should know

An active young woman who was diagnosed with cancer for four years at stage four after waking up with a lump the size of a golf ball in the side of her neck has revealed the warning signs that everyone should know.

Marisa Sipcic, 26, spent her teens playing sports and was very excited to receive a scholarship in 2014 to play college football in the US.

After graduating, she continued to prioritize her health and fitness, spending weekends walking her pet chihuahua and spending hours Monday to Friday as a hairdresser on the Mornington Peninsula, an hour south of Melbourne in Victoria.

When a ‘terrible’ itchy rash spread out of nowhere from her arms to her legs in 2017, a surprised Marisa saw a doctor prescribing steroids to relieve the irritation.

By 2018, she became increasingly tired and began to experience feverish night sweats, mistakenly believing that her lethargy was caused by her hectic work schedule.

But one morning, mid-August 2019, Marisa woke up to find a swelling the size of a golf ball sticking out of her neck.

On September 19, 2019, two years after her first warning sign – and two weeks before her 26th birthday – she was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer.

Victoria hairdresser Marisa Sipcic was surprised when a rash from scratch spread from her arms to her legs in 2017

Victoria hairdresser Marisa Sipcic was surprised when a rash from scratch spread from her arms to her legs in 2017

In mid-August 2019 she found a hump the size of a golf ball on the side of her neck; less than a month later, Marisa was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin's lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer

In mid-August 2019 she found a hump the size of a golf ball on the side of her neck; less than a month later, Marisa was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin's lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer

In mid-August 2019 she found a hump the size of a golf ball on the side of her neck; less than a month later, Marisa was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer

“It started on my arms and legs in red, rough, itchy stripes and finally spread to my upper body,” Marisa told Daily Mail Australia.

“I could control it with the tablets, creams, and soap-free products, but my skin was still uncontrollably itchy and nobody could tell my why.”

Marisa now knows that the result was an early sign that something was seriously wrong with her body.

After discovering the bump in her neck in August 2019, doctors performed a series of scans and a biopsy and gave her the devastating news.

Marisa is one of the approximately 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year.

“I was in shock. It’s not something you expect to hear a few weeks before your 26th birthday, “she said.

Marisa is one of the approximately 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma every year

Marisa is one of the approximately 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma every year

Marisa is one of the approximately 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year

Early warning signs of Hodgkin lymphoma

Common symptoms include excessive fatigue, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, skin rash and severe itching and painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin.

Source: Cancer Council Australia

Marisa had lost her uncle in early 2019 to another type of blood cancer, making her diagnosis all the more difficult.

The symptoms that most lymphoma patients experience are also seen in common and relatively harmless diseases such as viral infections, which often leads to a delayed diagnosis.

Excessive fatigue, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, skin rash and severe itching and painless lumps in the neck, armpits or groin should all be reported to a doctor if they persist for more than a week or 10 days.

If noticed early, the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival improve significantly, so early intervention can mean the difference between life and death.

Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six-month chemotherapy course with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body

Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six-month chemotherapy course with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body

Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six-month chemotherapy course with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body

Marisa's friend Christopher (left) and father Dusan (right) shaved their heads in solidarity when she started chemotherapy last year

Marisa's friend Christopher (left) and father Dusan (right) shaved their heads in solidarity when she started chemotherapy last year

Marisa’s friend Christopher (left) and father Dusan (right) shaved their heads in solidarity when she started chemotherapy last year

Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a blood cancer that starts in a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes.

It is one of the two main groups of lymphoma, the other is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The disease begins in a lymph node, usually in the neck, and can spread through the lymphatic system from one group of lymph nodes to another.

The causes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma remain largely unclear, but risk factors are family history – with those who have a parent or brother or sister who has had Hodgkin’s somewhat more likely to develop the disease – certain viruses, including glandular fever and HIV, and a generally weakened immune system which may occur due to autoimmune diseases or long periods of use of immunosuppressants.

Approximately 647 Australians are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year.

Classical Hodgkin lymphoma usually develops between 15 and 29 years old and in older people over 70 years old, but it is known to occur at any age.

Source: Australian Cancel Council

Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six-month chemotherapy course along with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body.

On December 10, halfway through the treatment, a PET scan revealed that a large number of cancer cells had disappeared.

A month later, Marisa and her family were overjoyed when further research confirmed that there were no traces of cancer left, which means that she is now officially in remission.

Marisa has three chemo sessions left, but she is optimistic about the future and feels excited to seize life with both hands after her frightening ordeal.

Now in remission, Marisa is looking forward to seizing life with both hands. She plans to go on vacation with her boyfriend Chris

Now in remission, Marisa is looking forward to seizing life with both hands. She plans to go on holiday with her boyfriend Chris

Now in remission, Marisa is looking forward to seizing life with both hands. She plans to go on holiday with her boyfriend Chris

‘The first thing I look forward to is going on vacation with my boyfriend to a warm and sunny place. I want to see the world and experience new things! ‘ she said.

Marisa is grateful for the lessons that cancer has taught her, the greatest being who puts her health above everything else.

“I find it good to rest or take some time off from your work and your normal life tasks,” she said.

“We only get one chance in this life and I am fully prepared to live it as fully as possible.”

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