A woman has told of how her constant cough, which was dismissed by six different doctors, turned out to be a symptom of stage four cancer.
For three years Jessica DeCristofaro, 28, was told by doctors that her persistent coughing was allergies.
After suffering abdominal pains, Jessica visited an ENT doctor in 2015 who put it down to a pulled muscle and told her to rest up.
In January this year, her pain was so acute she went to hospital and was finally given blood tests and scans which revealed the devastating news - she had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Jessica says she was let down by the misdiagnosis, but she was even more disappointed by the lack of information provided to her about cancer.
Because of this and to help other cancer patients, Jessica launched a blog titled ‘Lymphoma Barbie’. She is also publishing a cancer guide book called ‘Talk Cancer to Me’.
The pharmaceutical rep, from Miami, US, 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.”
When Jessica’s allergy medicine made no improvements, she was diagnosed with acid reflux and was told to change her diet which helped for a while, until the cough returned.
Her symptoms became more alarming and as her abdominal pain worsened, she also developed a lump on her armpit.
Shockingly, she claims she was told the lump was a cyst and carried on with her life until January 2016 when she admitted herself to emergency care because of unbearable abdominal pain.
“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,” she recalled.
“Then I was transferred to a specialist hospital for more tests.
“My mum is a nurse and saw the biopsy of my lymph node, so she knew that I had Lymphoma. I was diagnosed around 3 February.
“My oncology doctor was livid, he was almost yelling. He couldn’t believe it was missed for so long.”
Jessica began chemotherapy treatment immediately and celebrated remission after two cycles in March. However, by April 22, the cancer had returned and spread to her chest.
She underwent 20 sessions of radiotherapy and six rounds of chemo - her last session ends in August.
She said: “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.”
While Jessica’s world was collapsing she felt very much in the dark about what was going to follow.
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.”
Jessica made friends with her nurses who gave her tips and tricks to make the process easier, such as dealing with the nausea.
She is now relaying this information in her book and blog to help other cancer patients.
She said: “I had to take leave of absence from work because the chemo 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.”
As she nears the end of her treatment Jessica 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.”