Aussie woman's harrowing response to cancer: 'Felt like a failure'

A Sydney woman has detailed her harrowing cancer journey after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at just 19 years old.

Despite being cancer-free for more than two years, Maddie King, now 22, is still suffering from the permanent effects the disease, which claimed her father's life, and subsequent treatment had on her body.

In 2019, Ms King was training to become a ballerina when she developed a persistent "slight" cough and began suffering from night sweats. However, it wasn't until she discovered "hard lumps" on her body that she began to worry about her health.

Ms King was at a cafe with a friend when she felt what she thought was "a 'water droplet' from the ceiling land on [her] neck". "When I reached to touch and check it, there was not water, but a weird lump above my collar bone," she recalled in a post on Instagram.

Maddie King, who was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 19 years old.
Maddie King was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 19 years old. Source: Instagram/mxddieking

What followed was a confirmed diagnosis of stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a type of blood cancer — and five months of intensive chemotherapy, which not only left her "mentally and physically exhausted" but threw her into early menopause.

Tragic effect of cancer treatment

Before entering her 20s, Ms King was told she would no longer be able to conceive a child, and even after going into remission unbearable symptoms have persisted.

In an online post, in which Ms King has detailed her tragic three-year journey, the young woman revealed her chemotherapy regime did "a solid number on [her] reproductive system". She often experiences hot flashes, mood swings and brain fog — all synonymous with menopause. She also lost her libido during her "sexual prime".

"I felt like a failure and a disappointment, both as a woman and to my partner at the time," she wrote. "It warped my sense of sexual identity because how the f**k do to navigate closeness with another person when at your core you deem yourself unworthy of being desired."

Maddie King during her cancer treatment with a shaved head and after.
Maddie King's cancer diagnosis threw her into early menopause, leaving her unable to have children. Source: Instagram/mxddieking

'Brutal' cancer journey

In December 2019, two months after her diagnosis, Ms King said it was "terrifying" to see her health deteriorate, particularly because she had "always been big on fitness" and exercised daily. Throughout her journey, Ms King said losing her hair was "the worst part". She struggled with intense nausea as well.

The Sydney woman said her first chemotherapy cycle was "a non-stop dance between my bed and the toilet bowel". "I threw up every day for a week and couldn’t keep any food down," she wrote on Instagram at the time. "The past few months have been the most trying and testing of my life."

She also began to endure severe bone pain, mouth ulcers, extreme lethargy and drastic hair and weight loss, she told 7Life, admitting it was "brutal".

Through all that, Ms King held onto hope that she'd one day be a mum through IVF treatments, and began freezing her eggs almost immediately after her diagnosis. Following her remission, the then 20-year-old began hormone replacement therapy, which would help balance her hormones and menopausal symptoms.

Recently, Ms King attempted egg retrieval once more but was told that her ovaries "didn't respond". She admits she's "heartbroken and angry" that this is her life at just age 22, and said she's trying to cope emotionally.

Ms King in hospital during months of 'intense' chemotherapy.
Ms King endured months of 'intense' chemotherapy which wreaked havoc on her reproductive system. Source: Instagram/mxddieking

"It seems that my ovaries have decided now is a good time to switch off completely — my periods have stopped and hormone levels have tanked," she wrote in a heartfelt post. "IVF seems to no longer be on the cards for me now if my hormones don't improve."

The 22-year-old said she "used to be in-tune with my body" but now suffers extreme anxiety around her symptoms. "I have night sweats on and off (major concern for lymphoma symptom) and while it’s more than likely hormonal fluctuations I’m still petrified that something sinister is happening inside a ticking time bomb," she revealed.

Ms King continues to raise awareness about the threat of cancer, particularly in young people. And while she admits to feeling "great", her body "gets tired a lot easier, and [her] lungs have been damaged from the drugs and radiation". She also said she's living in "constant fear of a relapse even so far out of treatment".

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