Eczema Turns Out to be Cancer

If that rash seems more than just an itch you cannot stop scratching – be proactive, like Olivia Nikolic.

“I didn’t really think anything of it. I just thought it was eczema,” the 20-year-old said. “When I got a dry cough, I just thought I had a cold. I thought that these were just normal things.” [1]

In fact, her sudden symptoms were anything but boring and innocuous.

A few weeks later, she had a shooting pain from her heart to her left shoulder. “It was such an intense pain. It was so bad I’d cry. I couldn’t breathe,” she said.

“My boyfriend – now fiancé – had a feeling something wasn’t right and forced me to go to hospital. … I am so lucky he did, as I was told if I’d left it for two more weeks, I wouldn’t have made it.”

On Valentine’s Day, mere weeks after developing easily mistakeable symptoms, Nikolic was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma.

Lymphoma begins in infection-fighting lymphocyte cells of the immune system – in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and other parts of the body. This is the body’s germ-fighting network. When you have lymphoma, lymphocytes change and grow out of control.

“Even a few days before I went to the hospital,” Nikolic said, “I had no clue that anything was wrong with me. I was with my family and my friends, having fun and enjoying life.

“It isn’t something you’d ever expect to go through. You always see it happen to other people, but you never think it would happen to you.”

Nikolic had the first of six chemotherapy rounds shortly after receiving the diagnosis. She is still undergoing treatment, and reports that her tumor has shrunk by half.

The American Cancer Society notes Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for about 4% of all cancers. [2]

The ACS projects about 74,200 people (41,090 males and 33,110 females) will be diagnosed with NHL –including adults and children – and about 19,970 people will die from this cancer (11,510 males and 8,460 females). Overall, the chance that a man will develop NHL in his lifetime is about 1 in 42; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 54.

There is no sure way to prevent non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Most people with NHL have no risk factors that can be changed, so there is no way to protect against these lymphomas. But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk for NHL, such as limiting your risk of certain infections and doing what you can to maintain a healthy immune system.

Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is known to increase the risk NHL, so one way to limit your risk is to avoid known risk factors for HIV, such as intravenous drug use or unprotected sex with many partners.

Some studies have suggested that being overweight or obese may increase your risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the ACS. Other studies have suggested that a diet high in fat and meats may raise your risk. Staying at a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet may help protect against lymphoma, but more research is needed to confirm this.

“I am lucky enough to have a cancer that is curable,” Nikolic said. “I am thankful for this life lesson because it’s going to shape me to be a better person”.

“For as long as I live, I’ll never take anything for granted again.”



[1] Woman discovers ‘tiny’ rash on body is actually cancer.

[2] Key Statistics for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

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