Woman mistook minor rash for eczema — it was actually a sign of cancer

An Australian woman who didn't think much of a small rash and a minor cough she had was stunned to learn that they were symptoms of something more serious. 

Olivia Nikolic, 20, of Melbourne, told News.com.au on Sunday that, earlier this year, she noticed that a rash on her hip had spread to her legs but dismissed it as nothing more than a common skin condition.

"I didn't really think anything of it," she said. "I just thought it was eczema. When I got a dry cough, I just thought I had a cold. I thought that these were just normal things."

Weeks later, however, Nikolic reportedly felt a sharp pain course from her heart to her left shoulder. The pain was so unbearable that she cried and had trouble breathing, she said. 

"My boyfriend — now fiancé — had a feeling something wasn't right and forced me to go to hospital," she recalled. "I am so lucky he did, as I was told if I'd left it for two more weeks, I wouldn't have made it."

Doctors then requested x-ray scans, which, in turn, confirmed that Nikolic's health was far worse than previously thought. 

"The next day, doctors sat me down and told me they’d found a tumor," she told the news site. "I just cried. I didn’t even want to live anymore." 

In February, doctors diagnosed the 20-year-old with Stage 4 lymphoma — a treatable type of blood cancer often characterized by fatigue, night sweats, abdominal pain and nausea, according to Healthline.com.

"I was nothing but in disbelief that I had cancer," Nikolic said. 

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These eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancer
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These eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancer

1. Processed meat

The World Health Organization places processed meat in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos when it comes to carcinogenicity. Although the three groups are not considered equally dangerous, processed meat has been proven to cause colorectal cancer. Studies show that "every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 [percent]," the U.N. agency notes.

Research has also found a connection between processed meat and stomach cancer, but the evidence is not conclusive. 

2. Salt-cured meat or fish

Salt-cured foods tend to have high levels of nitrates and nitrites, both of which react with amines and amides to form compounds that can lead to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute

Moreover, research shows that "the more people eat of these foods the greater their chance of developing stomach cancer," Dr. Stephanie Fay wrote for World Cancer Research Fund International

3. Pickled foods

Much like salt-cured food, pickled foods contain a strong amount of nitrate and nitrate. A 2012 survey published by the American Association for Cancer Research revealed a direct correlation between the consumption of pickled vegetables and gastric cancer. Those of East Asian descent are particularly vulnerable to the disease since their diet heavily consists of pickled foods, the study said.  

4. Grilled food

Grilling food over an open flame creates heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, two types of chemicals that can cause changes in the DNA, thereby increasing the risk of cancer, the National Cancer Institute points out. Researchers determined that high consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats led to increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. 

5. Microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn contains a toxic compound called diacetyl, which can cause scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs and has been linked to lung cancer, Eitan Yefenof of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Reader's Digest.

The health threat actually comes from the popcorn bags, which contain chemicals that are suspected to cause cancer, according to Healthline. Those chemicals can also be found in pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and Teflon pans. 

6. Alcohol

Heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum, says the National Cancer Institute. The U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines "heavy alcohol drinking" as "having 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting (typically in about 2 hours)." Those who drink should do so in moderation (one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men). 

7. Bagels

As mouth-watering as bagels are, they're also a health risk, particularly for non-Hispanic whites. Bagels have a high glycemic index, which means that they can significantly raise blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels trigger the secretion of insulin, which, in turn, can influence the risk of lung cancer, according to a 2016 study published by the American Association for Cancer Research

8. Soda

Drinking carbonated beverages heavily can exacerbate the symptoms associated with cancer, such as gas, bloating, heartburn or reflux, according to Stacy Kennedy, a senior clinical nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

In addition, many soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Obesity itself has been linked to 13 different types of cancer, including breast, esophageal and endometrial cancers. 

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The Australian admitted she didn't once think she had cancer because the symptoms weren't serious enough to convince her otherwise. Now, she's undergoing chemotherapy, which she said has physically exhausted her. 

"It's really impacted me a lot," she said. "I feel like I’m always tired and unable to do the things I want to. I'm only 20. I'm turning 21 this year. I should be planning my 21st in America, studying, and saving for a house — but I can't do any of that."

Though Nikolic said the cancer treatment — which has cost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes — has made her somewhat lose confidence in herself, it has also changed her perspective on life.

"Cancer has changed me as a person to be more grateful and thankful for even the air I'm able to breathe," she said. "I am so appreciative of everything I have." 

A GoFundMe campaign for Nikolic's treatment has since raised nearly $4,000 of its $5,000 goal. 

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