A young woman who collapsed in a supermarket after being told by doctors that her symptoms were due to stress has been diagnosed with a rare stage four cancer.
Mollie Mulheron, 24, from Skipton, Leeds, had recently returned to the UK after spending nine months travelling in the Galapagos islands, Ecuador, where she started feeling unwell.
In the last couple of months before coming home, Mollie began having difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, had “constant” exhaustion and developed a rash all over her lower body.
The 24-year-old said she almost drowned while snorkelling on her last day, but private doctors on the islands told her that her issues were “in her head” and were down to a mixture of “stress, tension and a small bed”.
Once back in the UK, Mollie collapsed in public, turned blue and was rushed to hospital. She underwent blood tests, X-rays and an emergency CT scan, which found she has a 14cm tumour over her heart and lungs.
Mollie has now been told she has stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma - an aggressive form of blood cancer - and is still struggling to comprehend the news. She said: “Doctors came into my room at 3am and told me they had some seriously difficult news to share with me and asked if me and my family were prepared.
“I was asked if I had any questions. The only thing I could ask is if I was going to die and the doctor told me he can’t say yes or no. I am not going to even describe the feeling of being told news like this, but all I can say is, I thought that was it for me.
“I screamed and screamed about how I had so many plans. I had achieved so much already at 24 but I wasn’t done yet and I wanted to have a family and babies and wasn’t ready to die at 24.”
‘All I could do was cry and scream’
Mollie said she has been given an injection to try and preserve her fertility but it has put her in early menopause, which she says is the worst part as she “always wanted to be a mum”.
She had been planning on returning to the Galapagos, where she worked as an English teacher, in a month’s time but she was told there weren’t enough students for her to teach so she booked a flight home on 4 February. But within 48 hours of touching down in the UK, she had collapsed and began throwing up in a supermarket.
Doctors told her that the reason she kept collapsing was because she was repeatedly having heart attacks due to the tumour. She was prescribed steroids to stop the tumour from growing further and because of its advanced state, she quickly began chemotherapy.
She explained: “I’ve been fit and healthy my whole life, I’ve always been completely fine – I don’t know what has caused this, I’m healthy and young, three weeks ago I was in Galapagos living my best life.
“I still can’t comprehend it now - [when I was told] I was screaming to my mum about my future plans, how I wanted to be a mum and get married, all I could do was stare at the wall and cry and scream.
“The doctors immediately put me on steroids to stop the growth of the tumour while they tried to figure out what was going on. They couldn’t start treatment until they knew exactly what it was so I was waiting for the biopsy to come back.
“When I finally got the results, it wasn’t what we hoped for – it’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is rare and aggressive. The doctors seem hopeful they can treat it and say the success rate for the type of cancer I have is good and it looks hopeful. The only sad thing is that it’s stage four which means it’s on both sides of my chest and has spread to other parts of my body.
“I started chemo and had a bad reaction to the first treatment, but the doctors said it was because they started it too fast, and after that it was okay, I just had a few side effects like headaches. The doctors say there are a lot of treatments they can try because I’m young, fit and healthy.”
Mollie has set up a fundraiser to help cover expenses and is also hoping to raise enough money to get a high-quality wig while she undergoes treatment. She said: “I will be out of work for the foreseeable with zero income. I didn’t have any savings after coming back from Galápagos as the last penny to my name was spent on getting out there and back!
“And of course, many people will know, my hair has always been my thing - my identity - and having to lose it all, is breaking my heart beyond belief and one of the most terrifying things in this whole journey, therefore I am also trying to get a very realistic high-quality wig to look exactly like my normal self.”
Mollie added: “If anything positive has already come out of this, it is the realisation of what is important in life. I never knew how quickly someone’s perspective on life could change until receiving news like this.”
Donations to Mollie’s fundraiser can be made online via her GoFundMe page. More than £8,500 has already been raised.