A young Aussie has revealed how doctors thought she had glandular fever after being ‘sick for months’ – but she was actually suffering from something more serious.
Kate Proctor-Parker was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January aged just 19 after five months of illness, seeing multiple doctors and being prescribed a litany of drugs.
The now-20-year-old suspected something might be ‘seriously wrong’ after noticing a lump on her neck, and pushed the GP to refer her to a specialist.
After battling for a diagnosis, Kate was surprisingly ‘relieved’ when a biopsy revealed she had stage-three cancer as her concerns were validated and a clear treatment plan was in place.
She said the ordeal taught her the importance of ‘trusting your gut’ and standing up for yourself when your fears are being dismissed by doctors.
At just 20, Kate Proctor-Parker (pictured) battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma after doctors thought her symptoms were caused by glandular fever.
After noticing a lump (visible under her left cheek) Kate suspected something could be ‘seriously wrong’ and pushed the GP to refer her to a specialist.
‘You know your own body best. If you’re not happy with the way you’re being treated by a medical professional, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion,’ she told FEMAIL.
In September 2022, Kate noticed a lump on her neck but otherwise felt well.
After only a few weeks, his health began to deteriorate.
‘There were ten days where I couldn’t keep any food down, I’d throw everything away. I’ve lost 10kg in a month and a half,’ says Kate.
‘I was sweating terribly. I had this little lump in my neck that had ruptured and I had lumps in my collarbone and under my armpits.’
A blood test revealed that she had glandular fever, so doctors attributed all her symptoms and prescribed antibiotics, but she never got better.
His illness worsened so much that he flew from Canberra, where he was studying economics at the Australian National University, to his hometown of Melbourne to be with family.
In September 2022, Kate (pictured before falling ill) noticed a lump on her neck but otherwise felt well. After only a few weeks, his health began to deteriorate
Hodgkin lymphoma: what is it and what are the symptoms?
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin’s disease, is a type of lymphoma – a general term for cancer of the lymphatic system (various lymph glands around the body).
Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare cancer. It is estimated that more than 700 people will be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma cancer in 2022. The average age of diagnosis is 45 years.
Signs and symptoms:
Painless swelling in the neck, armpit or groin, especially at night Unexplained fatigue Unexplained shortness of breath Unexplained cough Unexplained weight loss.
There is currently no screening for Hodgkin lymphoma in Australia.
There are no proven measures to prevent lymphoma; However, people with HIV infection or the Epstein-Barr virus have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
Source: Cancer Council
There, he saw another GP who prescribed him more antibiotics for a chest infection, which he said helped somewhat but he continued to struggle with illness.
‘I’m not usually a hypochondriac but my aunt who I’ve never met but I’ve heard a lot about died of lymphoma, so it’s something I was aware of,’ she said.
‘When I first got sick in Canberra, I called my mum and I said, “You think I’m being hysterical but I think there might be something seriously wrong with me.”‘
Because of her gut feeling, Kate insisted on being referred to a specialist, which her doctor ‘reluctantly’ did.
‘After getting a referral to a specialist, I tried to book and I couldn’t get in for a month,’ he recalls.
‘Then I saw a second GP and he called a specialist on the dot for me and booked me in for the next day.’
Kate underwent multiple biopsies that ultimately confirmed she had stage three Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer of the lymphatic system that thankfully has an 80 percent survival rate.
‘I’ve been incredibly sick and been on so many antibiotics and steroids for five months that when I finally got the diagnosis, I was relieved,’ she said.
Kate underwent multiple biopsies that ultimately confirmed she had stage III Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer of the lymphatic system with an 80 percent survival rate.
‘At the moment we were trying to figure out what was wrong with me and if it wasn’t cancer it could have been something they weren’t sure how to treat.
‘When I knew it was cancer, I at least knew there was a way forward, I had to take steps to get well again.’
He endured two rounds of intensive chemotherapy and is now nearly finished with four rounds of ABVD, a chemotherapy combination used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.
Before starting treatment, Kate also went through IVF to freeze her eggs as chemotherapy could affect her fertility.
Chemo is not an easy road for anyone; However, Kate had a particularly difficult time after developing a blood infection, catching covid and becoming septic.
‘The first round of chemo made me incredibly sick. I was there three days a week initially and every time, my white blood cells would drop to zero and my red blood cells would also become extremely low,’ she said.
Kate was hospitalized on two separate occasions for blood infections.
‘I had to take out my PICC line, which is a peripherally inserted central catheter, as I had my chemo given to me.’
He underwent two rounds of intensive chemotherapy and is now almost done with four rounds of ABVD, a chemotherapy combination used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma.
At Easter, Kate wound up in hospital again after contracting Covid and becoming septic, so doctors eventually had to switch the type of chemo that was making her sick.
She endured more than most 20-year-olds go through, but was fortunate enough to have her mother’s unwavering support by her side.
‘My mother comes with me to everything. After my first hospital admission he would stay overnight even though I was on the adult ward,’ laughed Kate.
‘Unfortunately, last time I was in ICU so he had to be away from me, but my mum has been there through everything and my dad has been a great support too. At Easter, he helped me raise money for the world’s best shave.’
Kate also found solace on social media, posting details about her journey on TikTok and connecting with other young Aussies who have been or are currently battling cancer.
Kate endured more than most 20-year-olds go through, but she was lucky enough to have her mother’s unwavering support by her side.
‘The first thing I did when I was diagnosed was jump on TikTok to see what other people’s lives look like when they have cancer,’ she says.
‘Although I have amazing support through family and friends, it can be hard to describe what you’re feeling when they haven’t been through it themselves, so talking to other people who have actually gone through the same treatment is really good.’
At her young age, Kate has already had to face her own mortality, but says it has taught her to appreciate life more.
‘This last trip where I was an inpatient in the hospital and I went septic, it sounds funny, but you really see how vulnerable your life is, so I’ve had a new take on life ever since,’ he said.
‘Every day I’m not in the hospital, I’m so grateful to just walk around and have the energy I do now.’
With only one and a half rounds of chemo to go, Kate will have tests and scans to see if the treatment has worked, but is feeling hopeful and planning for her future.