A woman's cancer was mistaken for scabies after she was tormented by an itchy leg rash for weeks.
Raveen Sethi, 24, first went to the doctors in November 2017 after breaking out in the rash that became so itchy she was getting just two hours of sleep a night.
Diagnosed with scabies – a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin – Raveen, from Romford, Essex, was sent home with a prescribed ointment.
But in time, her symptoms escalated to the point where, at her wits’ end, she even forked out £400 to have her bedroom sealed off and fumigated, before making a private appointment with a dermatologist.
Then, in March 2018, to her horror, trainee financial advisor Raveen was told that she did not have scabies after all – but rather Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Raveen told how her nightmare began in November 2017 when, 18 months away from completing her traineeship as a financial advisor, she spent countless nights tossing and turning.
But it wasn’t her looming exams causing her sleeplessness – it was a red, scabby rash that had sprung up on her legs.
Initially, she thought it had been caused by a simple insect bite, but within a couple of days, it had completely coated both limbs.
Suspecting she had suffered an allergic reaction, she turned to over-the-counter antihistamines – but when two weeks passed with no improvement, she decided to seek professional help.
At a doctor's appointment in November of the same year, she was told she likely had scabies.
She said: "As soon as the words came out of the GP’s mouth, I felt sick to my stomach.
"I’d thought scabies was something people got in the Middle Ages – not in the 21st century."
Returning home, Raveen slathered herself in permethrin – the ointment she had been prescribed, which paralyses and kills the mites and their eggs – as soon as she got through the door.
She continued: “I was extra cautious following the instructions and made sure that I covered every part of my body in the cream.
“I boil washed every item of clothing I owned as well as all my bedding.”
But despite her vigilantly applying the cream twice a week, after two weeks, the rash showed no sign of easing up.
So, in December 2017, Raveen returned to the doctors, where she said she was told to continue using the ointment to ensure all the mites and their eggs had been killed.
When that second course of treatment also failed, she even went to the extreme measure of paying £400 for pest control to fumigate her bedroom.
She said: “They started by taking the bed apart and spraying any soft furnishing with a disinfesting powder.
“Then they used a slow-release fumigator that meant my room had be sealed off for two days.”
By February 2018 – three months after her initial scabies diagnosis – Raveen, whose legs were still covered in a rash, decided to claim on her family's private insurance to book an appointment with a dermatologist at Spire Hartswood Hospital, Brentwood, Essex.
There, as well as examining her legs, they felt the lymph nodes around her neck, soon noting that one was enlarged.
And when a referral was made for a biopsy at the same hospital, she knew she was dealing with something more sinister than scabies.
“I immediately asked if they thought I could have cancer and the doctor was very honest and told me there was a chance,” she added.
A week later, the biopsy confirmed that Raveen had stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a symptom of which can be an unexplained, red and dry rash, according to the charity Lymphoma Action.
She continued: “It's not exactly what I wanted to hear but in some way I was relieved – my symptoms were finally being taken seriously.
"It was telling everybody else that made me realise, 'oh god – this is serious.'
“They wanted to begin my treatment as soon as possible and I found myself putting my entire life on hold.
“I should have been well on my way to becoming a qualified financial advisor but instead I was starting chemotherapy.”
On March 27, 2018, Raveen had her first chemotherapy appointment, returning every two weeks for the next six months to have anti-cancer drugs pumped into her system.
Though she had been initially relieved to finally have a diagnosis, when the gruelling side effects kicked in – including severe nausea – she found herself feeling worse than ever.
Then, two months into her treatment, the moment she had been dreading came, when she began losing her dark brown hair.
“Before, I’d always shed hair when I brushed it anyway, so for a while, I didn’t notice any difference,” she said.
“Then all of a sudden, it was coming out in clumps, and by the third month, I was completely bald.
“I made sure the wig I bought was as similar to mine as possible. People said that they couldn't even tell it was fake but I knew it was and I was convinced everybody else could tell too.”
Her confidence in tatters, Raveen found that scrolling social media – something she had once done almost constantly – now left her feeling desperately self-conscious.
“I might have had to wear a wig but there was no way I was flaunting it. Instead I would just scroll through everybody else’s seemingly wonderful lives and think ‘why can’t I be like them?’
"Before, I would never think about the impact my Instagram posts were having, but applying filters and quite literally making everything look perfect is a reminder to other people that their life isn't."
Eventually, after six months of chemotherapy, she was given the all clear in September 2018.
Admitting that the news was not the huge celebration she had envisaged, she said: “Everyone is so excited about the fact that you’ve been given the all clear and wants to make a big song and dance out of it.
“But the reality is you are utterly drained, and just want to collapse from exhaustion.
“Still, you put on a brave face for your friends and family and act like it’s all okay because you’ve not got cancer and you should be happy.”
In early 2019, almost a year after her diagnosis, Raveen was still struggling to come to terms with the impact of her cancer journey and got in touch with Macmillan Cancer Support.
“They’ve been brilliant in helping me address my self-image issues after cancer,” she explained.
“It’s completely normal to have an identity crisis after going through something as huge as a cancer diagnosis and hearing other people talk about their own self-image problems is a massive help.
“I know that social media is a part of everyday life now and I won't lie and pretend I don't use it anymore, but I'm much more aware about the things that I post and the accounts that I follow.
"Instagram and the like shouldn't be making anyone feel worse about themselves, but the reality is it so easily does."
Now, Raveen is picking up her studies where she left off, and hopes to soon be a fully-trained financial advisor.
“I’m not the same person I was before I got my cancer diagnosis, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” she added.
“I now appreciate that every minute in this life counts and if I can help any other people by sharing my story then that’s one more positive thing that I can add to the list.”
Macmillan Cancer Support and Boots UK have been working together for 10 years, to be right there for more people living with cancer.
Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors and Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists can be found in many Boots stores, and have been specially trained by Macmillan to provide face-to-face advice and information to help people feel more like themselves again.
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