Jessica DeCristofaro The Lymphoma Barbie!
Life’s Roller Coaster
Greg Lance – Watkins
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‘My cough was actually CANCER’: Saleswoman says six different doctors misdiagnosed her disease as allergies, acid reflux and a pulled muscle
- Jessica DeCristofaro, 28, suffered from a constant cough for three years
- Says doctors misdiagnosed it but it turned out to be stage 4 cancer
- Chemotherapy was successful but the disease returned a month later
- Advises people to trust their instincts if they believe something is wrong
Jessica DeCristofaro, 28, had a constant cough but it was dismissed by six different doctors. In January, tests revealed she had a rare type of cancer
A saleswoman whose cough was dismissed by six different doctors discovered cancer was spreading around her body.
For three years medics told Jessica DeCristofaro, 28, her persistent coughing was allergies – and she was prescribed drugs and told to change her diet
She began suffering severe abdominal pain she was referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist as doctors suspected it was acid reflux or a stomach ulcer.
There, she was told she had simply pulled a muscle and advised to rest.
But in January this year the pain became so bad she decided to go to the emergency room, where scans and blood tests revealed the devastating news – she had cancer.
Doctors said she had stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma – which meant the disease had already spread around her body.
Ms DeCristofaro, from Miami, said: ‘For three years I had this constant cough, it was so frustrating but the doctors just blew it off.
‘I think they thought I was young and healthy but I had a feeling something was wrong, I felt so sick for so long.
‘I wasn’t shocked when they told me it was cancer. I had known something was wrong.’
Ms DeCrisotfaro developed a cough when she was around 25 – but her doctors said it was due to allergies and prescribed drugs.
When her allergy medicine made no difference, she was diagnosed with acid reflux and was told to change her diet which helped for a while, until the cough returned.
She began to suffer abdominal pain which got worse and worse, and also developed a lump on her armpit.
She claims she went to see a doctor about the lump, who was told it was a cyst.
Then, the stomach pain became so unbearable, she went to the emergency room for painkillers.
Ms DeCristofaro said: ‘I was supposed to travel for work so I thought I would go to the emergency room and get some pain relievers, but I ended up staying overnight and having all these tests.’
Ms DeCristofaro was diagnosed with stage four Hodkin lymphoma. She began chemotherapy immediately, which caused her hair to fall out
She was then transferred to a specialist hospital for more tests – which is when she suspected doctors might have found something more serious.
‘My mum is a nurse and saw the biopsy of my lymph node, so she knew that I had Lymphoma,’ she said.
On February 3 medics broke the devastating news – she had Hodgkin lymphoma – a rare cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body.
Moreover, the cancer had already spread, making it more difficult to treat.
‘My oncology doctor was livid,’ Ms DeCristofaro said. ‘He was almost yelling. He couldn’t believe it was missed for so long.
She continued: ‘If you think something is wrong with your body, something probably is.
‘If I could do it all over again, I would have gone to the emergency room sooner, at a different hospital, so that the doctors could have run the proper tests.
‘Always be your own advocate, it’s the only way.’
Shortly after being diagnosed, she started chemotherapy immediately and was delighted when, in March, she was told she was in remission.
However, by April 22, the cancer had returned and had spread to her chest.
She now advises people to trust their instincts if they believe something is wrong with them: ‘If you think something is wrong with your body, something probably is. Always be your own advocate, it’s the only way.’
She then underwent 20 sessions of radiotherapy and six rounds of chemotherapy – with her last cycle due to end in August.
Shocked by the lack of information for cancer patients, Ms DeCrisotfaro decided to write a blog about her experience, called Lymphoma Barbie.
It described the gruelling experience of chemotherapy, which caused her hair to fall out and left her nauseous.
As her treatment is almost over, Ms DeCrisotfaro is optimistic about the future and claims she can feel that her body is free of cancer
She said: ‘It was so difficult as nobody really told me what was going to happen.
‘I was so sick I didn’t know what to do. My hair was falling out in clumps, it made me sick to my stomach – it’s traumatic.
‘That drove me over the edge. Emotionally I couldn’t do it.
‘I had to find all these books to tell me what was going to happen.’
Ms DeCrisotfaro made friends with her nurses who gave her tips and trick to make the process easier, such as dealing with the nausea.
And now she is relaying this information in her book, Talk Cancer to Me, to help other sufferers.
She said: ‘I had to take leave of absence from work because the chemotherapy means I can’t be around people in case they make me ill as my white blood count is low.
‘That’s been tough for me, because I was so career driven and at the top of my career.
‘I created the blog and Instagram to get through the process.
‘I named my blog Lymphoma Barbie, because all of the nurses at my cancer centre call me a Barbie doll, since I refused to let cancer get the best of me, and still put my make-up and wig on every day.
‘I’ve met so many people going through the same thing and have so many people writing to me every day. It saved me.’
Now that her treatment is almost over, Ms DeCrisotfaro is optimistic about the future.
She said: ‘I have a feeling it’s all gone. You learn to know about your body.
‘I’m not the same person I was six months ago. I care about different things and my attitude has completely changed. I embrace life more.
‘After this is over I want to continue writing and help educate people.
‘I feel like everything happens for a reason.’
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