Marnie could never have predicted what 2020 had in store for her. At the beginning of the year, she was studying to become a nurse, taking classes with her dance company, and hanging out with friends.
“When I was diagnosed, it was a time in my life when I was just starting to find my feet and discover where I belonged in the world. Then it all came crashing down,” said Marnie.
In March, not only did she have to endure the shock of a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis, she had to complete treatment through all the uncertainty and disruption of COVID-19.
“No one could come in [to the hospital] with me – I think mum came to my first treatment and from there I was on my own,” said Marnie.
“It’s pretty scary because you’re going into hospital not knowing what’s really going on and all by yourself, but I guess that’s how it had to be.”
When Marnie was first diagnosed, it was completely unexpected. It was purely by chance that her cancer – already at stage 3 – was discovered.
Marnie (left) pictured with friends before her diagnosis.
“I had to have my immunisation tested for uni placement, so I went and had a test done which came back a bit abnormal. They sent me off for some scans and it showed up that I had three tumours throughout my body,” said Marnie.
“It took me a while to process because I looked healthy and felt fine. But when I started to lose my hair it started to sink in a bit – this is my new life.”
After Marnie started losing her hair due to chemotherapy, she contacted Cancer Council’s nurses through the 13 11 20 information and support line to ask about the free wig service.
“Because of COVID it was all done over the phone and they let me go through the catalogue online and select what I liked best. Then it was sent out to me in the mail in about a week or so,” explained Marnie.
“Most 18-year-olds love their hair and losing that was a big part of my identity, so being able to have a wig lent to me was amazing.”
Marnie wearing her Cancer Council wig that made her “feel normal again”
Marnie had to have chemotherapy every fortnight, for about six and a half hours per session. Unfortunately, chemotherapy was the only treatment option available to her.
“They couldn’t operate or do radiation because of the location of my tumours – they were all surrounding my vital organs. So, it was just chemo through an IV drip.”
Not only did Marnie have to go into hospital without the support of her friends, family or boyfriend – COVID-19 found a way to make her time in hospital even more uncomfortable.
“Having treatment makes you feel like you’re going to be sick constantly, and then you always have to have a mask on which just makes it worse!
“The nursing staff also had to wear full protection equipment for precaution,” said Marnie, “it was almost like we were in the COVID-wards – which we weren’t, we were there for treatment – but it sort of felt like we were the infectious ones.”
Marnie at hospital receiving treatment
Even outside of the hospital, the pandemic only compounded Marnie’s fears.
“During treatment, my immune system was very low and coming out of treatment it was still pretty low, so it made it quite scary because every time I got a sore throat I thought ‘oh no its COVID’.”
Each time Marnie felt a little unwell, she got tested for COVID-19, but thankfully she never caught the virus.
“You’re stressed because the media shows you how dangerous it can be for people with low immune systems,” she explained.
Although there was so much negativity in Marnie’s life, she managed to stay positive, and then she finally received some wonderful news.
Marnie with her family.
Back row left to right – Karen (mum), Simon (dad) and brother (Kaine).
Front row left to right – Hayley and Ebony (both sisters) and Marnie.
“Halfway through my treatment, [the medical team] were hoping to see good results. Then I had my PET scan and it was all looking really good – they were sort of blown away by how I was responding to it.”
By November, Marnie’s team of doctors and nurses told her she was in remission.
Marnie says cancer has immensely changed her life. It showed her who her true friends are – including her boyfriend Bailey who stuck by her side the entire time.
“Previously you’d wake up and feel like you’re having a bad day and think – ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’. And now I wake up and a bad day is still a good day,” says Marnie.
Today, she looks back on the whole experience and is proud of making it through to the other side of such a difficult year.
Marnie with her boyfriend, Bailey.
“I sort of am just blown away by how strong I was and that I got through it. My energy levels are still getting back up there, but compared to how I was feeling for those eight months, I feel incredible.”
Marnie has a message for other people facing cancer – and even some advice for people those who are feeling completely healthy.
“The biggest thing was just smiling through everything. Sometimes it’s so hard to put on that brave face and smile, but that’s what got me through it,” she said.
“Also, make sure you have check-ups with the doctors. In my case, I was diagnosed without symptoms. Anyone can be diagnosed, so just get checked.”