Anna Howard’s recent health journey hasn’t been smooth.
A healthy young woman who regularly exercised and kept up a busy life, her concern was first raised when she couldn’t shake an ongoing cough for three to four months towards the end of 2021.
“The cough was going on for so long. I was like `oh my gosh, what’s going on?’ I thought it was all in my head… it obviously wasn’t,” she said.
“Generally I’m that crazy person who gets up at 5 am and goes to the gym. But I started feeling really fatigued and eventually stopped going because I could barely get out of bed and I was getting progressively worse.”
Assuming it was asthma or allergies, her doctor prescribed antibiotics. This wasn’t the case.
Anna developed symptoms of night sweats, dizziness, a loss of appetite, itchiness, and her lymph nodes became swollen. She assumed it was a reaction to a moisturiser.
X-rays and CT scans finally revealed a tumour in her chest.
Two weeks later, she attended hospital emergency still concerned by the enlarged lymph nodes in her neck. A PET scan showed cancer in her chest and neck.
Anna was diagnosed with blood cancer on 21 January.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I had an excuse for every symptom,” she said.
“There were lots of little things going on. Unless you pieced them together, you wouldn’t think something sinister.”
She now undertakes chemotherapy every two weeks and blood tests to ensure her white blood cell count isn’t low because she’s become more susceptible to infections.
“As the risk of catching COVID or an infection would probably send me to the hospital, I like to stay in my bubble rather than go out. But there’s lots of Netflix, sudokus and walks with my dogs to keep me busy now.”
Although there’s no known cause of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, treatment options are available.
“There’s so many people who get diagnosed with different cancers and don’t have the treatment options or support I do. I’m very fortunate there are options for me and a way forward.”
Anna participated in this year’s World’s Greatest Shave by getting rid of her long blonde locks to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation.
“When I was in hospital, I realised I was going to lose my hair. So I wanted to do it my own way, by raising awareness to let people like me know that it’s okay to lose your hair and we shouldn’t be ashamed.
“I also wanted to raise money to support families and research for blood cancer so we can find a cure.
“I thought the vibe after shaving my hair was going to be really low and I’d be really upset. But it was actually really exciting, which was strange. I felt like I was kind of taking the power back into my own hands now.”
Anna has received overwhelming support during the annual event, raising more than $23,000 for the World’s Greatest Shave. The figure makes her the top shave fundraiser in Canberra and second highest individual shaver in Australia.
“It feels so good to know I’ve been able to build awareness. I’m overwhelmed how generous people have been and that they want to help.”
The 32-year-old is also grateful for the continuous support of her husband, mother, family and friends who have been there every step of the way.
“I have a great support network around me. I’m very thankful.”
Leukaemia Foundation CEO Chris Tanti said blood cancer was commonly found among young people, often oblivious to the signs.
He said the most common symptoms to look for included recurrent infections, increased fatigue, night sweats, bone pain, weight loss and enlarged lymph nodes. He strongly encouraged young people not to ignore the signs and have regular health check-ups.
“Early intervention is the key to any health problem,” Chris said.