When 21 year old Rhiannon Douglas from Staffordshire spotted a red blotchy rash across her legs, she put it down to a shaving rash. Like a normal rash as a result of shaving, however, it didn’t fade after a couple of days, but instead it got worse.
The rash got so bad in May last year that Douglas decided to go to the doctors about it. There, she was told she had something called Henoch-Schönlein purpura, also known as HSP, a rare condition where blood vessels throughout the body become swollen, causing bleeding into the skin and therefore a rash.
The painkillers Douglas took to ease what she thought was HSP didn’t work, however, and further symptoms including back ache and an increase in weight began to develop. Doctors considered a number of other possible illnesses, including arthritis and meningitis, but couldn’t find anything conclusive.
Eventually, the discomfort got so bad that she had to go to hospital. “The rash on my legs was really painful at first but then after a while my legs also started to swell and I suffered bad pain in my joints,” said Douglas. “I was struggling to get up and down the stairs and I became breathless really easily.”
In hospital, further tests revealed that Douglas wasn’t suffering from HSP, but instead doctors discovered an 8.5 cm tumor in her chest, which was later diagnosed as cancerous. Douglas was told she had a rare type of Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the network of vessels and glands throughout the body.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Douglas had gone for so many months having symptoms but not knowing it was cancer, doctors also told her that the rash was an extremely rare symptom of the cancer she had, and that it’s unusual for it ever to appear. What’s even scarier is that if the rash hadn’t appeared, and a diagnosis had been much later, the cancer might not have been treatable.
“When I was told that I had cancer I felt numb and never thought I would hear those words at just 20 years old,” she said. “But I was determined to fight it and there and then I decided to change my lifestyle around, I wanted to do everything I could to get better.” A scan in December last year, a month or so after her cancer diagnosis, revealed that the tumor had shrunk to 7.5 cm without treatment, and hopefully a further scan this month will indicate it’s continuing to reduce in size.
But Douglas is keen to raise awareness about rare symptoms of cancer like this so others might be able to detect it in time. “Luckily mine was caught in time but unfortunately this may not be the case for everyone,” she said.
“After doing research online I found some articles that say a rash is a sign of cancer but it’s not a very common one, some people may not know what to look out for. “I would urge anyone to get themselves checked out if they are unsure of anything as you just never know what it might be. But I also think it’s also really important not to put a death sentence on the word cancer, I have a really positive outlook and I’m hoping to be in remission by the summer.”