Whittlesea cancer survivor’s message after winning her fight to the disease

WHITTLESEA cancer survivor Marnie Wills has shared her story of beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma after overcoming the disease with support from Cancer Council Australia and the Dry July Foundation.

Ms Wills was studying to become a nurse at the start of 2020 when her life took a dramatic turn.

In March she received a shock diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer of the immune system – that coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news came as a shock, as it was only by chance that her cancer – already at stage three – was detected.

“I had to have my immunisation tested for uni placement, so I went and had a test done which came back a bit abnormal,” she said.

“They sent me off for some scans and it showed up that I had three tumours throughout my body.

“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.”

Ms Wills said she felt fine during the initial stages of her treatment, but started to fully understand her situation as she began to lose her hair.

It was then that she said she contacted Cancer Council nurses through the 13 11 20 information and support line to ask about their free wig service.

“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,” she said,

“Because of COVID [the wig service] 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.

“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 received support from the Cancer Council’s free help line, including organising a wig after she lost her hair during chemotherapy.

Donations to the Dry July charity campaign help support the Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support line – a confidential service run by experienced health professionals.

This year Dry July provided $3.1 million to the Cancer Council, helping people affected by or concerned about cancer to connect with relevant support, information and resources.

Dry July donations topped $12.9 million in 2020, with more than 38,000 Australians giving up alcohol to raise money for those affected by cancer.

Dry July has provided funds to 33 beneficiaries to assist in providing services and utilities to people affected by cancer.

Ms Wills faced chemotherapy sessions fortnightly for about six-and-a-half hours per session.

“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,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused complications for Ms Wills, forcing her to endure chemotherapy without the support of her friends, family or boyfriend and causing her anxiety.

“You’re stressed because the media shows you how dangerous it can be for people with low immune systems,” she said.

But halfway through her treatment course, Ms Wills received some welcome news.

“[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,” she said.

By November, Ms Wills’ team of doctors and nurses told her she was in remission.

She said cancer immensely changed her life, but she now looked back on the experience with pride.

“I 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,” she said.

Ms Wills encouraged other people facing similar circumstances to connect to support services offered by the Cancer Council.

She said her advice to people battling cancer or those feeling completely healthy was the same.

“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,” she said.

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