Updated 11 September 2013

'Lymphoma is not a death sentence'

Jenny Brown is a lymphoma survivor and a testament to the fact that a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Read her story here.


Jenny Brown’s speech is clear, clipped but warm. She speaks with no hesitation, like a woman who knows where she is going, her voice carrying a no-nonsense tone. She matter-of-factly calls herself "an average person", but by the time I’ve finished interviewing her I know that this sixty-five year-old woman is nothing short of remarkable. Jenny Brown is a lymphoma survivor and a testament to the fact that a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence.

In February, Jenny, a non-smoker who has always exercised and maintained good health, went for lunch with friends. Chatting and gesticulating over a hearty meal, her left hand brushed her throat and her forefinger tapped a lump just below her jaw.  She didn’t worry too much, but for good measure, went to see her physician. He didn’t believe there was anything sinister but referred her to a surgeon at the Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town where a routine scan was done.

The seemingly inoffensive lump was then removed and Jenny underwent a colonoscopy and gastroscopy, both of which provided clear results. The lump, however, carried a more ominous verdict: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) type B.

'You realise your mortality'

Just seventeen days after her diagnosis, Jenny commenced chemotherapy. "The diagnosis knocks you," she admits, "it frightens you and you realise your mortality. Side effects experience included loss of appetite, hair loss, fatigue, insomnia and constipation. I had my moments at rock bottom."  However, the words of a nursing sister, uttered to her during her first course of chemo shifted Jenny’s perspective. She was told: "You are not an invalid. You just have cells you need to get rid of."

With that, Jenny determined to make life as normal as possible. Her family and friends rallied around her. She decided not to resist this experience, despite overwhelming emotions. No-one around her allowed her to wallow in negativity and this lifted her spirits. Jenny also had a great sense of respect for and trust of her medical team, feeling at ease to ask as many questions as necessary about her illness. She empowered herself by reading everything she could on lymphoma. Connecting with others who have battled cancer - cancer buddies - was a great support to Jenny too. 

Jenny endured four chemotherapy sessions, "an unpleasant treatment", but was assured that her NHL was an aggressive cancer that would respond well. After the chemo, she had a PET scan, which is a detailed examination that inspects all lymph areas in the body. She was given the all-clear. Wanting to be double sure that they’d zapped the cancerous cells, Jenny’s doctor recommended radiology. 

'I am very lucky'

"I am currently having 20 sessions of radiology, 4 weeks in all from a Monday to a Friday. This treatment has been very different to chemotherapy. The only side-effect that I have is a slightly sore mouth, almost like sunburn on the inside of my mouth, because the area that is being radiated is the right -side of my neck where the lymph node was removed and found to be cancerous."

Having stared death squarely in the face, Jenny still manages to laugh and insists she had no choice but to give her recovery her all. Her story is littered with "I am very lucky".  Lucky for detecting the cancer early, lucky for the loving support of family, lucky for the team of wonderful doctors and nurses, lucky to afford medical aid and lucky for the opportunity to gain a deeper affection for humanity. "Cancer has made me realise how wonderful people are. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t be as frightened. It is not a death sentence, you can get through." 

Jenny’s advice to those newly diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is "if possible, choose a medical team that you respect and trust. There is no harm in getting a second opinion. Secondly, have as much knowledge as possible about NHL".

Written by Matrix Advertising and Communications

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