NOT A COLD: Reality of woman’s terrifying ‘tiny’ rash
CANCER was the last thing on 20-year-old Olivia Nikolic's mind when she entered 2019 with a small rash and minor cough.
In fact, she put her sudden symptoms down to being something completely boring and innocuous.
"It started with a rash on my hip that spread really fast to everywhere on my legs," she told news.com.au.
"I didn't really think anything of it. I just thought it was eczma. When I got a dry cough, I just thought I had a cold. I thought that these were just normal things."
It wasn't until weeks later when Olivia developed an intense shooting pain from her heart to her left shoulder that she realised something wasn't right.
"It was such an intense pain. It was so bad I'd cry. I couldn't breathe," she said.
"My boyfriend - now fiance - had a feeling something wasn't right and forced me to go to hospital.
"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."
The Melbourne woman had expected doctors to confirm her suspicions of a cold, but instead, they requested X-rays - the results of which would turn her world upside down.
"The next day, doctors sat me down and told me they'd found a tumour. I just cried. I didn't even want to live anymore," Olivia said.
On Valentine's Day 2019 - just weeks after developing her easily mistakeable symptoms - Olivia was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma.
"I was nothing but in disbelief that I had cancer," she said.
"I went to the hospital on February 13 for what I thought was a tiny cough, and then the next day, I got the news I had lymphoma cancer."
"Even a few days before I went to the hospital, I had no clue that anything was wrong with me. I was with my family and my friends, having fun and enjoying life.
"It isn't something you'd ever expect to go through. You always see it happen to other people, but you never think it would happen to you."
Only one week after her shock diagnosis, Olivia began the first of her six rounds of chemotherapy, with the cancer drastically impacting every facet of her young life.
"It's really impacted me a lot. 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.
"I just wish I was healthy enough to work and save and do the things I'd planned, but now I'm set back.
"My life is put on hold, and I'm really struggling to come to terms with it."
Recovering from cancer is hard enough without limited finances. Olivia is now unable to work, and Centrelink is barely enough to cover the young woman's bills and petrol, let alone hospital parking and medication.
Coming to terms with the physical impacts of cancer and chemo have also been a huge struggle for Olivia - particularly losing her hair.
And unfortunately, quality wigs can cost in the thousands.
"I've lost all my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. I've also put on weight from the chemotherapy as a result of the steroids they've given me," she said.
"I've lost everything physically about myself. I used to feel really confident, and now I don't feel like I'm good enough.
"It really messes me up that I look like this when I look at myself in the mirror - no hair, no eyelashes. This is supposed to be the prime of my life."
But despite facing a multitude of horrific hardships that cancer brings, Olivia is grateful.
"I am lucky enough to have a cancer that is curable. I am thankful for this life lesson because it's going to shape me to be a better person," she said.
"For as long as I live, I'll never take anything for granted again.
"Cancer has changed me as a person to be more grateful and thankful for even the air I'm able to breathe. I am so appreciative of everything I have.
"I am beyond grateful for the amazing people I have in my life, and even though they're so upset this is happening, it's made me so much closer to them."
Olivia's message is to live life to the fullest; to appreciate the little things and not sweat the small stuff - as well as to get any symptoms, no matter how seemingly minor, checked out.
"The signs and symptoms of having lymphoma are also so easily mistaken for stress. I want to put as much awareness as I can out there for everyone.
"If it wasn't for Volkan encouraging me to get checked out, I would have died - he saved my life.
"I want to put as much awareness out there that this can happen and help other people going through the same thing."
Thankfully, Olivia's tumour has shrunk by half. And with a few more sessions of chemotherapy, it's hoped she will make a full recovery. A friend recently started a GoFundMe account to try and raise $5000 to help towards her medical costs.
"I just can't wait to start living my life again," she said.
Zoe Simmons is a freelance journalist. Continue the conversation @ItbeginswithZ