How a ‘textbook healthy’ woman was sent home by a doctor with antibiotics to treat ‘tonsillitis’ after her 29th birthday – before further tests confirmed she had a rare and aggressive cancer: ‘I had NO other symptoms’
- Renae Wooten was diagnosed with anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma in late 2021
- This Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer impacting lymph nodes
- The 29-year-old from Melbourne initially thought she had tonsillitis
- Her only symptom was a lump near her throat which appeared a month prior
- The cancer is ‘rare’ but thankfully after treatment she’s now in remission
A young ‘textbook healthy’ support worker had the shock of her life after what she thought was tonsillitis turned out to be a rare type of blood cancer.
The week after her birthday in November, Renae Wooten, from Melbourne, was diagnosed with anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma (ALCL) after noticing a lump on the back of her throat that had appeared just a month before.
Renae told FEMAIL the lump, her only symptom, looked ‘like a cyst’ and she assumed she had tonsillitis.
‘I went to the doctor who admitted he didn’t know what it was either so I was sent to a specialist who put me on antibiotics,’ she said.
When the medication didn’t provide any relief she went back to the doctor quickly as the lump had grown and was blocking her airway.
While physicians weren’t concerned at first, a biopsy confirmed Renae had blood cancer.
The week after her birthday Renae Wooten, from Melbourne, (pictured) was diagnosed with anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma (ALCL) on November 4, 2021, after noticing a lump on the back of her throat that appeared a month prior
Renae told FEMAIL the lump, her only symptom, looked ‘like a cyst’ and thought she had tonsillitis. Physicians weren’t concerned at first but a biopsy confirmed she had blood cancer
The sinister lump first appeared on October 22, the day after Melbourne’s Covid lockdown ended, and the specialist first thought it was a cyst that had ruptured.
‘The doctor said if it doesn’t change within the next two days after taking antibiotics to go to the hospital,’ she said, adding how as the lump worsened it looked blistered and sore.
‘The specialist was puzzled because I had no other symptoms, I was living life as normal and wasn’t feeling uncomfortable.’
On November 1 Renae was told the devastating news that would change her life forever – but prior to being told, she wasn’t worried.
The sinister lump first appeared on October 22, the day after Melbourne’s harsh ongoing Covid lockdown ended, and the specialist first thought it was a cyst that had ruptured. On November 1 Renae was told the devastating news that would change her life forever
‘Because of Covid I wasn’t allowed bring anyone and went to get the biopsy results alone in a last minute appointment,’ Renae said.
‘I was really calm still thinking it was only tonsillitis – I thought at most they’d just need to remove my tonsils – but when the nurse told me the results I burst into tears.’
Renae said she ‘went numb’ and questioned what would happen next.
‘I thought, “This can’t be true”, because I’m textbook healthy, I don’t smoke or drink, and I exercise every day,’ she said.
Thinking of her boyfriend of four years, Renae said she ‘felt guilty’.
‘I gave him the opportunity to leave because he didn’t sign up for this,’ she said, adding the pair are still together today.
‘I was really calm still thinking it was only tonsillitis – I thought at most they’d just need to remove my tonsils – but when the nurse told me the results I burst into tears,’ she said
Renae said she went into ‘fight or flight mode’ and was ‘very emotional’ – she had no family support in Melbourne as she’s originally from Albury.
The following week she met with a hematologist (blood specialist) who said she’d need six rounds of chemotherapy.
‘I was told I’d lose my hair and my hematologist recommended cutting it sooner than later – and I was devastated because I had long, blonde, beautiful hair,’ she said.
She was also asked what her ‘future plans’ involved in regards to having children, and Renae instantly replied she’d always imagined herself being a mum.
The very next day she met with a fertility specialist and within 10 days the process of egg collection began.
‘I had no time to think about it and had lots of trust in my doctors,’ Renae said.
The reason for the urgency was because the cancer was stage two and deemed to be ‘aggressive’ and ‘fast moving’.
She also cut her hair within a week of being diagnosed.
‘I focused on what I can control rather than what I can’t, and my hair was one of them,’ she said.
What is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in your lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system.
In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, white blood cells called lymphocytes grow abnormally and can form growths (tumors) throughout the body.
Both Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are lymphomas – a type of cancer that begins in a subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Chest pain, coughing or trouble breathing
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
Recalling the dreadful day Renae said she went into ‘fight or flight mode’ and was ‘very emotional’ – she has no family support in Melbourne as she’s originally from Albury. She cut her hair within a week of finding out
The cause of the cancer remains unknown and doctors said Renae’s type of lymphoma isn’t hereditary.
‘It’s just a case of bad luck – there’s nothing I could’ve done to prevent the cells from mutating into cancer,’ she said.
Unlike skin cells that are replaced every two to three weeks, blood cells are replaced every three to four months and it’s difficult to determine whether one tiny cell has mutated.
The most common symptom for lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin, but other warning signs can include abdominal pain or swelling, chest pain, fever, night sweats and unexpected weight loss.
The cause of the cancer remains unknown and doctors said Renae’s type of lymphoma isn’t hereditary. The first round of chemotherapy began on December 13 and continued until March 29, 2022. Renae didn’t need surgery to remove the lump in her throat or any radiotherapy
The first round of chemotherapy began on December 13 and continued until March 29, 2022.
Thankfully Renae didn’t need surgery to remove the lump in her throat or any radiotherapy.
‘Every round felt different – I was fine and hysterical after the first then felt sick after the second and third,’ she said and turned to acupuncture to balance the side effects.
‘I tried to use modern medicine and holistic health together to get the best outcome. I had good and bad days but still tried to live my life normally.’
Due to the treatment Renae was put into temporary menopause and slowly started losing her hair – but regardless she was still a bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding.
While the cancer was deemed to be serious, she never focused on the negative aspects.
‘Dying was never an option for me and was never worried about it because I never wanted it to be my story,’ she said.
‘I didn’t want to pity myself or become a victim, I wanted to be a warrior to rise above it.’
Today Renae is in remission and had her three-month check-up this week. Doctors were happy with her body’s response to the treatment and the ‘hardest thing’ was trying to go back to normal life
Today Renae is in remission and had her three-month check-up this week.
Doctors were happy with her body’s response to the treatment and the ‘hardest thing’ was trying to go back to normal life.
‘Once your treatment ends, you’re on your own. I as left in this grey area where I had to rediscover who I am,’ she said.
And she still suffers from side effects post-treatment including insomnia, brain fog, and pins and needles in her hands and feet, making her sensitive to the cold.
‘My life has completely changed, I have a lot more determination and believe I can truly do anything. I have a strong appreciation for life now too and am so grateful to be here,’ she said
‘My life has completely changed, I have a lot more determination and believe I can truly do anything,’ Renae said.
‘I have a strong appreciation for life now too and am so grateful to be here.
‘I’m not lucky because this still happened to me but I am fortunate. I wake up every day and tell myself: ‘It’s a good day to be alive, so go and live life.’
To other young people who may also be going through cancer treatments, Renae said to ‘not fear cancer’ and to ‘be there for your loved ones’.
‘Have a conversation with people about how you can support them. I had a lot of friends who ghosted me simply because they didn’t know how to handle my situation,’ she said.
September is Lymphoma Awareness Month and Renae is planning to launch a podcast titled ‘Hello I’m Healing’ to raise awareness about cancer.