A STUDENT has admitted she is lucky to be alive – after her arthritis led to doctors spotting a deadly tumour that could have killed her.
Francesca Mancini, who studies at Edinburgh University, was devastated when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis aged just 18.
But, amazingly, treatment for her arthritis led to doctors discovering a cancerous tumour the size of a grapefruit in her chest – and early detection meant they were able to save her life.
Francesca, 19, said: “It’s funny – rheumatoid arthritis had seemed like the end of the world when they first told me because it’s something I’d be stuck with that would change my life.
“But when I was told about the tumour it turned my world upside down – and blew the arthritis out of the window.”
Francesca, who lives in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, with her mum and dad, May and Osvaldo, and five-year-old sister Chiara, was initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she complained of fatigue and pain in her finger joints.
Before beginning arthritis treatment, doctors referred her for a chest X-ray early this year where they made the shocking discovery that Francesca had a mass on her thymus – a gland in the middle of her chest cavity.
After an operation to remove the tumour, Francesca received a second, devastating diagnosis – stage four non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a cancer that develops in your immune system.
This had started to spread to her lung, pancreas, abdominal lymph nodes and the sac around her heart.
She said: “Up until then, the doctors had thought the cancer might be benign but it turned out to be malignant.
“I was shocked. Up until then, the word had never been mentioned. Now I realised what was going on. I was 19 years old, and I had cancer.”
Last month, Francesca got the welcome news that she is in remission.
She said: “The chemo blitzed it. It’s the hardest chemo you can get so I feel quite proud of myself that I got through it.”
Francesca is now planning to resume her course at Edinburgh University, where she is studying biomedical science, and hopes to have a career in oncology.
She said: “One of the downsides of the treatment is that it’s unlikely I will be able to have children.
“I’d like to do something that combines cancer studies and fertility – if I can’t fix myself, I hope I can help fix other people.”
She admits there were times during her cancer treatment when she was stuck inside for days at a time.
Feeling sick and tired, she would escape from the ward to the welcoming Wellbeing Centre on the fourth floor.
She said: “I am a pretty upbeat person – if you don’t laugh, you cry and I knew that crying wasn’t going to make the cancer go away.
“I hope that by telling my story I might be able to help other people and if I can help even just one person it will have been worth it.”