To mark CanTeen Awareness Week, 21-year-old Eilsh Burt from Matata is sharing her journey to help raise awareness about the disease.
CanTeen Awareness Week is a nationwide appeal which runs from September 15-23.
Appeal stalls will be set up at various locations around Tauranga city where locals can either donate or find out more about the organisation.
Tauranga CanTeen youth support coordinator Charlie Whiteley says this year the theme of the appeal aims to raise awareness about early cancer symptoms.
“This year our theme is THUMP which recognises the early signs of cancer: tiredness, huge changes in weight, unusual lumps or swelling, moles that change and pain that doesn't go away.
“We're trying to raise awareness of these signs because a lot of young people go through a lot of late diagnosis and that's where problems arise.”
“We've got a couple of our members that have been telling their stories about the early signs of cancer.”
One of those people is Eilish Burt who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year. She says she first recognised signs of the disease from a young age.
“At school I was always the girl that was sick, I would catch anything, whether it be colds or viruses – they just seemed to love my body.
“From age 14 I had suffered from major chronic sinusitis. I always had yellow snot and infections, so in 2015 I had my first sinus surgery to try to get rid of the congestion.”
The surgery was unsuccessful and was followed in later months by more illness, including strep throat, weight loss, extreme sickness and intense migraines.
“No painkillers or medication could fix my pain,” she says.
“I was living off tramadol every four hours as well as steroids and painkillers to try to reduce the pain and nothing would work.”
During this time Eilish was working as a photographer of family portraiture in Auckland and had become so unwell that she had to leave the job.
She was admitted to Tauranga hospital for a week where she had a biopsy on the sinuses in her nose and was tested for lymphoma.
“By the end of the week they had the results back, which were inconclusive for lymphoma and I had been told by doctors that they were 99 per cent sure that I didn't have it.”
These results were followed by another sinus operation and, at a check-up two weeks later, she received a phone call from her surgeon asking that Eilish and her mother visit him at Auckland Hospital.
“We didn't think it would be anything serious because cancer had been ruled out,” says Eilish.
“We went back to hospital and got put in a room. The surgeon said to me ‘I'm so sorry to tell you this but we took a biopsy from the sinuses in your forehead and you have lymphoma – we found a tumour.'
“The reason why Tauranga didn't find it was because they only tested the sinuses in my nostril.”
Eilish was diagnosed with lymphoma on November 22, 2016.
The next few months involved three cycles of intensive chemotherapy and radiation.
“At the start of January I had five days of intense chemotherapy and I was hooked up that whole time at Waikato Hospital.”
Every second day, one week after this she was given injections at the Tauranga Cancer Centre.
“That first cycle finished in March and then by mid-April I had six weeks of radiation to my sinuses and that finished mid-May.”
Since then Eilish has been recovering with her family in Matata.
“The mental part of my treatment; that was the hardest part for me and it still is. My mental health has definitely been battered by my treatment.”
She is now in remission and for the next year will receive regular check-ups.
“In February I had a PET scan of my whole body just to see the therapy was working and by then the cancer had already gone.”
Eilish is hoping to be back working in Auckland by early next year.
“Through all of this one of the biggest things I've learned is that you have to be kind to yourself. It's so easy to be angry and frustrated with yourself and your body but you have to be loving to yourself and take it easy.
“I've had to learn to be patient and that the small things don't really matter. ‘Don't sweat the small stuff' it's a phrase I've heard all the time but I didn't really process it until now.
“Really appreciate your body and how well you are.”