26.11.2022

Student, mistook cancer symptoms for university workload stress and hangovers

A 21-year-old student mistook symptoms of cancer for hangovers and feeling tired from her university workload. Molly Hunt, of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, began experiencing stomach pain after drinking in October last year, while in the second year of her Geography degree. 

In February, the aspiring flight attendant spotted a lump the size of two grapes on her collarbone, and later developed itchy skin.

Molly said doctors initially dismissed her symptoms as glandular fever but after pressing for answers, she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin lymphoma in June.

The cancer was discovered in the left side of her neck — as well an 8cm mass in her chest — and she’s since been undergoing chemotherapy to shrink it.

Molly Hunt, of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, began experiencing stomach pain after drinking in October last year, while in the second year of her Geography degree. She was eventually diagnosed with cancer. Pictured, Molly (left) and in hospital (right)

Molly, pictured on a night out, said of her initial symptoms: ‘Sometimes I thought it was a hangover and sometimes I put it down to the workload at uni. I thought I was overdoing myself’

In February, she then found that her neck ‘swelled up a bit’, and discovered a ‘ hard little lump on the top of my collarbone’ (circled above)

When her lump hadn’t disappeared in a fortnight she returned and was put on a two-week cancer referral and sent for an ultrasound but within that time developed a second lump

Hodgkin lymphoma is an uncommon cancer that mostly affects people between the ages of 20 and 40 that develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body.

After five rounds of chemotherapy, Molly has this month received the good news that she’s in remission and is keen to raise awareness of the importance of noticing subtle changes in your body.

Molly explained that the first signs something was wrong was when she found herself feeling ‘exhausted’ as she went about her day.

‘I was extremely tired,’ she said. ‘It would get to 1pm and I’d crash, I’d feel like I was in a dream. I couldn’t really focus on a lot of things as the tiredness was that bad.

‘Sometimes I thought it was a hangover and sometimes I put it down to the workload at uni. I thought I was overdoing myself.

Molly described the experience as ‘the scariest thing’ and said learning about her diagnosis was ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever heard in my life’. Pictured with her supportive boyfriend Harry

Molly had a PET scan and discovered she had stage two Hodgkin lymphoma before she started chemotherapy on June 20. Pictured at her first PET scan

After five rounds of chemotherapy, Molly has this month received the good news that she’s in remission. Pictured, the PET scan Molly received showing she was in remission

‘I found myself going to less and less lectures because I was just so tired. Even if I went to bed at 10pm sometimes I’d be waking up at 1pm because I was exhausted.

‘I’d get a bit scared to go out on my own without my friends and boyfriend Harry because the tiredness would just hit me out of nowhere and I’d go a bit funny with it to.’

Hodgkin’s lymphoma: A cancer that attacks the body’s disease-fighting network

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.

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.

The survival rates are much more favorable than most other cancers.

Symptoms include:

a painless swelling in the armpits, neck and groin
heavy night sweating
extreme weight loss
itching
shortness of breath
coughing

Risk factors:

lowered immunity
a family history of the condition
smokers
those who are overweight

Treatment:

chemotherapy
radiotherapy
steroids
stem cell or bone marrow transplants

She continued: ‘I was going out and drinking quite a lot and the day after I’d get a really bad pain in my tummy underneath my diaphragm.

‘I felt like I had to contract to get the pain away and tense my whole body, it was quite a surreal pain.

‘I just thought «oh this is new, my body must not be able to tolerate alcohol as much».’

Molly said the symptoms meant she started going out less and less, because she ‘knew in the morning that I was going to feel abnormally awful, like really bad’.

In February, she then found that her neck ‘swelled up a bit’, and discovered a ‘hard little lump on the top of my collarbone’. The student estimated that it was ‘probably the size of two grapes put together’.

Molly added: ‘I thought I had really bad acid reflux too but it [lump] was pushing on my throat and making me burp a lot and making me feel like I need to burp — that was quite a big thing.’

She also felt ‘quite itchy’.

‘Sometimes it was a burning sensation other times it was really irritated by anything,’ Molly explained. ‘I found that a lot of soaps irritated me more for some reason.’

When she first discovered the lump on her neck in February, the student initially thought it was a side effect from having glandular fever back in September 2021.

She visited the doctor that month where they ran some blood tests and put it down to her reactive lymph nodes.

When her lump hadn’t disappeared in a fortnight she returned and was put on a two-week cancer referral and sent for an ultrasound but within that time developed a second lump.

When she went for her ultrasound she was advised that the lump was too big so they did a biopsy there and then on May 3.

Molly described the experience as ‘the scariest thing’ and said learning about her diagnosis was ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever heard in my life’.

‘I’ve never really been in hospital or had problems,’ she explained.

‘My biopsy must have broken up the cancer or something because I had loads more lumps on my neck, I had about six that I could feel and it went to my chest and I started getting a really big lump on my chest.

‘It took a whole month for the results to come back.

‘I came back from work on the Monday and had one of the best days at work I had and my dad was like «can you come in the lounge with me and Harry?».

‘My dad was like «you have cancer, it could be Hodgkin’s». The letter was very vague.

‘I remember I was uncontrollably crying — it was like I was almost screaming it was horrendous.

When she first discovered the lump on her neck in February, the student, pictured, initially thought it was a side effect from having glandular fever back in September 2021

‘It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

‘I initially thought, «am I going to die? Is my life completely changed forever?»‘

Two days later on June 1, Molly visited her consultant where she was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Nine days later she had a PET scan and discovered she had stage two Hodgkin lymphoma before she started chemotherapy on June 20.

Molly said she started to develop a cough just before the treatment, which has since gone.

Molly said: ‘It’s mentally been really hard because it’s the same every day — the fear of the unknown and what’s going to happen next.

Molly, who developed stomach pain each time she drank last October, said she four months later noticed a lump the size of two grapes on her collarbone before her skin started to itch. Pictured during her first round of chemo in June

‘It’s impacted my life greatly and made my heart hurt for my family.

‘I’ve always struggled with health anxiety. That’s how I really found out everything because I’m so in touch with my body and make sure I check for lumps monthly.

‘I think it’s really impacted that as I’m constantly taking my temperature, blood pressure and oxygen levels.

‘I’m living in my nightmare.

‘I went into my third round of chemo in a more positive mindset and I am excited for the future now.’

Molly now shares informative TikTok videos about Hodgkin lymphoma and has amassed more than 80,000 views from doing so.

Molly, pictured, now shares informative TikTok videos about Hodgkin lymphoma and has amassed more than 80,000 views from doing so

She was supposed to have 12 rounds of chemotherapy, but as she’s had a full metabolic response and is in remission, it’s been cut to just six rounds.

However, she may have to have radiation treatment.

The 21-year-old is currently fundraising for Lymphoma Action who are the UK’s only charity dedicated to lymphoma.

Molly said: ‘Seeing other people’s videos really helped me when I got diagnosed and I wanted to show everyone going through it that it’s ok and chemo isn’t as scary as you think it’s going to be.

‘I want to create a safe space for people to come to and look at my videos and think «oh, it’s going to be ok».

‘Cancer is a big and scary word. It’s very scary and I just think it’s nice for people to be able to look at my page and try and find a positive out of a negative.

‘My message would be — nobody knows your body like yourself and if you know that there’s something off get it checked because it can definitely save your life.

‘As soon as I found my lump I was in the doctors, which was why I caught it early so I’m quite lucky.’

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