25 March, 2023
Teenhood cancer - How battling Stage 4 cancer at the age of 16 changed Georgia’s life forever
AFTER being diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma at only 16 years of age, Georgia Santucci spent every day wondering if it would be her last. Now almost six years on and after conquering cancer, she is sharing her story of misdiagnosis, struggling with identity, and fighting to be heard.
Whilst in high school, Georgia began to notice swelling around her neck which caused extreme discomfort and profuse sweating.
Being a normal, happy and healthy teenager, she didn’t think too much of it at first until her neck swelled more and more to the point it caused excruciating pain when she moved.
“I was in and out of hospital and doctors’ offices for over a year and no one really had answers, they would just send me away with antibiotics saying I had some kind of infection,” she said.
“My white blood cell count was way high but that often is parallel with the flu or a minor under-lying infection so for about a year I was misdiagnosed and kind of dismissed.
“They all said, ‘you’ll be right, you’re just a healthy 16-year-old girl, nothing to worry about’ but in that time it got worse and my neck got so swollen I felt like I was being suffocated.”
Determined to figure out what was wrong, Georgia kept going back to the hospital to beg the doctors for answers, yet no one knew what the problem was.
After 12 months of begging and demanding, she finally found a doctor who would listen to her.
The doctor immediately ordered a biopsy and it came back as Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma – a type of blood cancer.
After learning of her terrifying diagnosis, Georgia and her mother travelled to Brisbane with hopes to tackle her cancer.
A PET scan quickly showed how much cancer was in her body and Georgia flew to Brisbane with hopes to have it surgically removed.
After being referred to an oncologist, she soon learned it wasn’t as easy as “remove and back home we go” and she was admitted to the Brisbane hospital for six months of treatment.
Six months in Brisbane, hundreds of kilometres away from her friends and family and tackling an aggressive cancer at such a young age truly impacted Georgia’s mental and physical health as she continued to fight for her life every day.
The first round of chemotherapy was an experi-ence she will never forget, recalling a time when she felt so weak and hopeless, she didn’t think she would make it.
“It was scary, and I think the scariest part was the unknown and not knowing what was going to happen next,” she said.
“The chemo was horrific, and it was obviously worse on the first round because my body isn’t used to being pumped with all those chemicals.
“I had quite an intense level of chemo and I would have reactions to all the different chemicals. Some days were okay but other days I could barely move, barely open my eyes or speak because I was tired and was stuck in bed all day.
“I was so nauseous all the time and smells made me feel so sick – like I was pregnant. I just remember my mum having to hold me up in the shower and just crying thinking ‘I can’t do this’.”
Over time, chemotherapy became easier for Georgia as her body became used to the chemicals.
Georgia continued to keep her head up and fight the cancer with her mum supporting her every step of the way.
“There were moments during treatment where I would just sit there and think ‘I could literally die tomorrow’ or ‘I could have a bad reaction’ and it was just scary how weak my body was,” Georgia said.
After six long months, she was able to head home where she has continued regular treatment and PET scans every two months.
Trying to figure out who you are as a teenager is hard enough, but battling cancer whilst discovering yourself is something that Georgia mentally struggled with the most.
Losing her hair to chemotherapy affected her self-confidence as a young woman and she found herself wearing wigs to hide her bald head.
At only 16, Georgia also went into menopause during her treatment and had to face the fact she may never have children.
Through the support of her friends and family, she has been able to overcome the “scary moments” throughout her cancer journey and begun encouraging people to listen to their body.
“My body knew something was up and it was showing me that and giving me that gut feeling,” Georgia said.
“Look after your body and look after your mind – go to several doctors and advocate for yourself because, especially living in rural and remote areas, we don’t have the resources they have in Brisbane or Sydney and a lot of health problems are kind of swept under the rug.
“During my time in and out of hospital, not once did someone think it could be cancer and they just ‘band-aided’ it, and that’s really scary it went un-noticed for almost a year and I guess that’s why I am such a big advocate for listening to your body.”
Now 21 years old, Georgia is studying educa-tion at university and is living her life to the fullest in Cairns whilst spreading awareness on Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
To this day, she is grateful for the support of her friends and family that were by her side every step of the way.
“At the moment, I assume I am all good based on my last scan, so I am just going to take that and roll with it,” she said.
“The only thing I can do now is just more health conscious and look after myself and continue living my best life – studying, working and just moving forward.”