Marisa Sipcic did not fit the common profile of a cancer sufferer – a soccer scholarship holder in her mid-20s, she had a full-time job, a boyfriend and an active lifestyle.
So when she developed a rash in 2017, Marisa thought little of it and certainly had no inkling that the condition would quickly develop into life-threatening cancer.
After completing her scholarship and graduating from college, she continued to prioritise her health and fitness, walking her pet chihuahua on weekends and spending hours on her feet from Monday to Friday as a barber on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne.
When an ‘awful’ itchy rash spread out of nowhere from her arms down to her legs in 2017, a puzzled Marisa saw a doctor who prescribed steroid creams to soothe the irritation.
By 2018, she was becoming increasingly tired and began to experience feverish night sweats, but mistakenly believed her lethargy was caused by a hectic work schedule.
But one morning in mid-August 2019, Marisa woke to find a swelling the size of a golf ball protruding from the side of her neck.
On September 19, 2019, two years after developing the rash – and two weeks before her 26th birthday – she was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer.
Victoria barber Marisa Sipcic was puzzled when a rash spread out of nowhere from her arms down to her legs in 2017
In mid-August 2019, she found a lump the size of a golf ball on the side of her neck; less than a month later, Marisa was diagnosed with stage 4a Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most advanced form of blood cancer
‘It started on my arms and legs in red, raw, itchy welts and eventually spread to my torso,’ Marisa told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I was able to keep it under control with the tablets, creams and soap-free products, but my skin was still uncontrollably itchy and no one could tell my why.’
Marisa now knows the rash was an early sign that something was seriously wrong.
After discovering the lump on her neck, doctors performed scans and a biopsy and gave her the devastating news.
Marisa is one of roughly 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year.
‘I was in shock. It’s not something you expect to hear just a couple of weeks before your 26th birthday,’ she said.
Marisa is one of roughly 650 Australians who are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year
Early warning signs of Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Common symptoms include excessive tiredness, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, rashes and severe itching and painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin.
Source: Cancer Council Australia
Marisa had lost her uncle to a different type of blood cancer at the beginning of 2019, making her diagnosis all the more terrifying.
What makes the serious illness so hard to diagnose is that sufferers experience symptoms that are also seen in common and relatively harmless illnesses like viral infections.
Excessive tiredness, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, rashes and severe itching and painless lumps in the neck, armpits or groin should all be reported to a doctor if they persist longer than a week or 10 days.
If detected early, the chance of successful treatment and long-term survival improves dramatically, so early intervention can mean the difference between life and death.
Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six month course of chemotherapy along with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body
Marisa’s boyfriend Christopher (left) and father Dusan (right) shaved their heads in solidarity when she started chemotherapy last year
Hodgkin’s lymphoma explained
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a blood cancer which starts in a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
It is one of two main groups of lymphoma, the other being non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The disease begins in a lymph node, usually in the neck, and can spread through the lymphatic system from one group of lymph nodes to another.
The causes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma remain largely unclear, but risk factors include family history – with those who have a parent or sibling who has had Hodgkin’s slightly likelier to develop the disease – certain viruses, including glandular fever and HIV, and a generally weakened immune system which can occur because of autoimmune conditions or lengthy periods taking immunosuppressant drugs.
Roughly 647 Australians are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year.
Classical Hodgkin lymphoma commonly develops between the ages of 15 and 29, and in older people over 70, but it has been known to occur at any age.
Source: Australian Cancel Council
Doctors immediately started Marisa on a six month course of chemotherapy along with intensive medication to eliminate cancer from her body.
On December 10, half-way through treatment, a PET scan revealed a large volume of cancerous cells had disappeared.
A month later, Marisa and her family were overjoyed when further testing confirmed no traces of cancer remained, meaning she is now officially in remission.
Marisa has three sessions of chemo left, but is optimistic about the future and eager to embrace her second chance at life.
Now in remission, Marisa is looking forward to seizing life with both hands. She plans to go on holiday with her boyfriend Chris
‘The first thing I am looking forward to is going on a holiday with my boyfriend to somewhere warm and sunny. I want to see the world and experience new things!’ she said.
Marisa is grateful for the lessons cancer has taught her, principally the need to put health above all else.
‘I’m discovering that it’s okay to need to rest or take some time off from work and normal life duties,’ she said.
‘We only get one chance at this life and I am fully prepared to live it to the absolute fullest I can.’
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