Ahead of World Cancer Day (4 February), a 16-year-old girl has revealed a bizarre symptom that was actually a warning sign of cancer – swollen glands that she had initially dismissed as exam stress.
Odille Sellick, now 17, was studying for her GCSEs in May 2022 when her mum, Clementine, spotted that her neck looked different.
While the teen felt perfectly well all through the summer, when the weather turned cooler she noticed her jumpers didn’t fit around the neckline.
After being checked by a GP, Odille was referred for a scan and further tests, and in December doctors delivered the shocking news that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system.
“I was in shock,” Odille, from Surrey, told NeedToKnow.co.uk.
“Even after the biopsy, I wasn’t worried that I had cancer.
“I’d been walking around with a big plaster on my neck from the biopsy and I thought it was cool.
“I didn’t ever think of it as a possibility at this age.
“As a young person you never really question your mortality so something like cancer had never crossed my mind.
“I was mostly shocked upon diagnosis – it changed my whole life in about 15 minutes.”
Odille was immediately booked in for a CT and PET scan to see what stage the cancer was at, and was devastated to learn it was stage 4.
She said: “I had an appointment with a fertility specialist and talked about having my eggs preserved.
“I’d always wanted children, but having my eggs preserved meant that I would be delaying my chemotherapy for a month.
“It was a big decision to make at 16, and it was my decision ultimately, but I decided to preserve my fertility.
“[Despite being stage 4] they still said I had time to preserve my fertility and I was very determined to have children, so I decided to press ahead with fertility treatment.”
She continued the treatment throughout December, spending Christmas injecting herself several times with medicines.
She said: “It wasn’t fun.
“My mum got sad too.
“We were just in a weird waiting period before the chemo started, so it was hanging over us a bit.
“I used to take two-hour ballet classes and we had a watching week, where the parents all come to see us perform, just before I started treatment.
“I wanted to go ahead with it and the teacher knew I had cancer, but nobody else knew.
“I told people in school by doing a speech in assembly about Teenage Cancer Trust, because the nominations for charities that year were happening soon after.
“But I didn’t tell my ballet class until it became obvious – I was losing my hair and I had to stop doing lessons because it became too hard.”
In January 2023, Odille was transferred to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to start chemotherapy.
She said: “As I was about to start the chemo, I said ‘What if I just say no and don’t have the treatment?’.
“They said I’d probably have around three to six months to live.
“It was scary to think that I’d taken a month out to have fertility treatment, but I’m glad that I did.”
Odille was supported by a youth support coordinator at the trust, Lara, who kept her spirits high throughout chemotherapy.
Of this time, she said: “I was sometimes in school, I made an effort to go whenever I could, I didn’t want to repeat the year but I ended up missing so much that I needed to.
“I’d have my chemo on Wednesdays and always be back to school by the Monday.”
After two months of treatment, Odille was saddened to start losing her hair.
She said: “I kept saying: ‘Mum, tell me honestly do I need to shave it off?’
She would say: ‘Yes’ but each time I’d say: ‘I’ll just leave it a bit longer’.
“I wasn’t ready to let it go.
“We’d had some good news from the hospital, and we’d gone out to celebrate and we took lots of pictures.
“When I looked at the pictures, I was shocked to see I looked like Golem from Lord of the Rings.
“My hair was so patchy.
“I had it shaved and for a while, I felt like an egghead.
“It felt strange like it wasn’t me.”
After four months of chemotherapy, Odille finished her treatment and by June 2023 went into remission.
Now, she is focused on regaining her life, restarting year 12 of school, and slowly getting back into ballet.
She said: “It’s hard to restart a school year, especially in a big school where you don’t know many people from the year below.
“But it also gives an opportunity for a fresh start.
“I know what I want from life more now, and I’m going to make sure I get it – I want to be a psychologist when I am older, inspired by what I’ve been through.”
Odille and her family have also gotten more involved with the Teenage Cancer Trust, with the teen helping raise awareness of cancer symptoms in young people.
She added: “Every year my school do a fundraising event, and three weeks after I was diagnosed, I stood up in assembly and did a speech about the Trust, and asked people to vote for it as our charity of the year.
“I won and the school ended up raising £4,000 for the charity.
“My little sister Delphine even did a bake sale.
“My dad’s work also did a fundraiser and they raised £26,000.
“I think that something good has to come out of this experience, and spreading awareness and raising money for charity is definitely something good that can come out of something like cancer.”
The most common warning signs of cancer in young people are lumps bumps and swellings, changes to a mole, unexplained tiredness, significant weight change, or persistent pain.
Dr Louise Soanes, Chief Nurse at Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “These symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have cancer, but it is really important to get checked out if you notice these changes in your body – especially if they last for a while and you can’t explain them.”