I blamed my cough on the air con at work but the truth left me fighting for life in a coma

WHEN student Laura Balazs started to experience a persistent cough alongside noticeable weight loss, she thought it was just down to her busy schedule.

During the summer of 2018, the musical-theatre student was working at Delightful Desserts, a dessert and coffee shop, in Redditch.


The air conditioning was on 24/7, so she thought her cough was down to the chilly air she was breathing in constantly. 

After a couple of weeks, Laura’s mum Gizella Gombosne persuaded her to go to the doctor, who diagnosed her with asthma and sent her home with an inhaler.

The chesty cough just wouldn’t shift though and became so intense that Laura says it also started to make her sick.

Laura returned multiple times to her GP who eventually prescribed antibiotics.

Aged just 20 at the time, she felt she wasn’t being taken seriously by the professionals.

By October, Laura’s dad decided to come to her next appointment, for support and because he wasn’t satisfied with the care she was being given.

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He demanded she have a blood test which was taken, and as they walked home from the surgery, the GP called: they suspected Laura might actually have cancer.

Speaking to The Sun, Laura, now 24, says it was then that she was given her diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“They tell you not to Google it,” she says. “I was in shock when I first saw what it was.”

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.

It affects more than 13,000 Brits every year and is the sixth most common type of cancer in adults in the UK.

It attacks the sufferer's lymphatic system, starting in white blood cells, which are a crucial part of the body's immune system and help fight infection.

The precise cause of the disease is not known, however, those who have a close relative with the condition are at a slightly higher risk.

Laura adds: “I was just about to turn 21 and had to start treatment a month before my 21st birthday.

“I spent my 21st in the hospital.”

Laura was put on adult wards during treatment and says “it was kind of depressing. “Everyone was quite a bit older than me and I would be alone in a bed in the corner. 

“No-one talked to me and I felt really isolated.”

What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

NON-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.

The precise cause of the disease is not known, however those who have a close relative with the condition are a slightly higher risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • those with a medical condition that weakens the immune system
  • those who take immunosuppressant medications
  • those who have been exposed to the common Epstein-Barr virus – which causes glandular fever

Signs and symptoms of the disease may include;

  • abdominal pain or swelling
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
  • chest pain, breathing difficulties or coughing
  • persistent fatigue
  • fevers or night sweats
  • unexplained weight loss

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is via a biopsy.

Laura said she had her first treatment of chemotherapy in Worcester in October 2018 and her second round in Redditch.

She continued to have treatment into the new year when she was moved to the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

It was there that she was able to socialise with people in the same situation as her, which Laura says really helped her open up and talk about what she was going through.

But, after celebrating New Year 2019, Laura’s condition started to deteriorate.

“I just kept feeling really bad. I couldn’t get out of bed,” she remembers.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it, then on January 2 my heart stopped because of all of the fluid that was around it.

“I was scared, I knew they were trying to wake me up and my heart rate was elevated.

“I could see my mum but all I wanted to do was scream, but I still had tubes down my throat to help me breathe and I couldn’t do anything.”

When Laura’s heart stopped she had to be placed in an induced coma for 20 minutes.

“When I woke I hardly recognised my family and refused to speak English to the nurses, only my native language Hungarian,” says Laura.

Laura was born in Hungary and moved over to the UK when she was 16.

She had learned some English in Hungary but had only studied for a year.

Laura said she picked up most of the language from TV shows and movies.

She got more confident after being encouraged by her friends and continued to learn more of the language.

After I had chemo I felt really anxious, it’s like you’re in this bubble and then it just bursts

When she was 18, she attended Nova Training which helped her with her maths and English skills so she could continue into higher education.

At the hospital, while Laura understood what was being said to her in English, she refused to respond and would only speak Hungarian, making it difficult for her to communicate with the medics treating her.

Laura also struggled to recognise her brother Gergo Gombos even when her family showed her pictures of them together.

But Laura’s ordeal wasn’t over and not long after the scare, they found fluid in her heart – but managed to catch it just in time.

In May 2019, Laura went through seven days of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

After finishing treatment she said she felt lost as it had become such a part of her routine.

She had to have echoes – scans used to look at the heart and nearby blood vessels – every six months to monitor the situation with her heart.

“After I had chemo I felt really anxious, it’s like you’re in this bubble and then it just bursts,” says Laura. 

“I kept worrying about everything. When you’re in hospital you have all of the doctors and nurses with you.

“I went back to our family home and my mum took some time off work to be with me and her and my sister arranged their shifts so that someone was always at home with me.”

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER

Many of Laura’s appointments had to be carried out over the phone during the pandemic as medics scrambled to treat patients with the virus.

In order to ease her anxiety, Laura was able to attend virtual events with the Teenage Cancer Trust, which she said helped boost her confidence.

Teenage Cancer Trust’s Youth Support Coordinator Cathy Cook helped organise the events.

Laura adds: “It’s a great way of keeping in touch with people from the unit too and being able to speak to people outside of my family. 

“We have a group message, so I chat to the other young people on there. 

“Cathy also calls and texts me regularly to see how I am doing, and I know she is always there if I need someone to chat to.

“I would encourage anyone to join the online events as they really do make such a difference during this difficult time.”

Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK Charity dedicated to providing the specialised nursing care and support young people need. 

Donate now to Teenage Cancer Trust and help us make sure no young person faces cancer alone. 

You can make your donation here.


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