Teenager with arthritis also had cancer

A brave teenager is lucky to be alive after a diagnosis of arthritis led doctors to spot a deadly tumour that could have killed her.

Francesca Mancini survived stage four cancer. Pictures Mark Gibson /Newsquest Media Group
Francesca Mancini survived stage four cancer. Pictures Mark Gibson /Newsquest Media Group

Francesca Mancini, 19, from Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, was devastated when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis aged just 18.

But amazingly, treatment for her arthritis lead to doctors discovering a cancerous tumour the size of a grapefruit in her chest - and early detection meant they were able to save her life.

Francesca said: “It’s funny - rheumatoid arthritis had seemed like the end of the world when they first told me because it’s something I’d be stuck with that would change my life.

“But when I was told about the tumour it turned my world upside down – and blew the arthritis out of the window.”

Francesca, who lives at home with her mum and dad, May and Osvaldo, and five-year-old sister Chiara, was initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she complained of fatigue and pain in her finger joints.

Before beginning arthritis treatment, doctors referred her for a chest x-ray in early 2015 where they made the shocking discovery that Francesca had a mass on her thymus - a gland in the middle of her chest cavity.

After an operation to remove the tumour, Francesca received a second, devastating diagnosis - stage four non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a cancer that develops in your immune system.

This had started to spread to her lung, pancreas, abdominal lymph nodes and the sac around her heart.

She said: “Up until then, the doctors had thought the cancer might be benign but it turned out to be malignant.

“I was shocked. Up until then, the word had never been mentioned. Now I realised what was going on. I was 19 years old, and I had cancer.”

But amazingly, on October 9, Francesca got the welcome news that she is in remission.

She said: “The chemo blitzed it.

“It’s the hardest chemo you can get so I feel quite proud of myself that I got through it.”

Francesca hopes to raise awareness for Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow.

“The doctors, nurses and staff at the Beatson are so good. We are hoping to raise as much funds as possible as a thank you for all the support they gave me.”

She is now planning to resume her course at Edinburgh University - where she is studying biomedical science, and hopes to have a career in oncology.

She said: “One of the downsides of the treatment is that it’s unlikely I will be able to have children.

“I’d like to do something that combines cancer studies and fertility - if I can’t fix myself, I hope I can help fix other people.”

She admits there were times during her cancer treatment when she was stuck inside for days at a time.

Feeling sick and tired, she would escape from the ward to the welcoming Wellbeing Centre on the fourth floor.

She said: “I am a pretty upbeat person - if you don’t laugh, you cry and I knew that crying wasn’t going to make the cancer go away.

“It’s the hardest chemo going so I’m proud that I got through it.

“I hope that, by telling my story I might be able to help other people and if I can help even just one person it will have been worth it.”