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Burkitt Lymphoma: Why One Woman's Cancer Diagnosis Shocked Doctors

Burkitt Lymphoma: Why One Woman's Cancer Diagnosis Shocked Doctors
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If you could see Georgia McLennan in 2015, you would have never guessed that she was sick – but she was. That’s the thing about cancer… it’s a deadly disease that can grow quickly and silently without you knowing.

From the outside, the then 21-year-old nursing student from Broadbeach, Australia appeared incredibly healthy. But on New Year’s Eve of that year, Georgia began experiencing a sharp, stabbing chest pain. What she didn’t expect was that the feeling would into the new year for three months of constant pain.

“I was in that much pain I was going once or twice a week to the doctor,” she told the Gold Coast Bulletin.[1] “It was at this point he asked if perhaps it was all in my head.”

For months, various doctors had been misdiagnosing her chronic pain. However, one doctor finally determined that Georgia had developed tumors along her liver and spleen. But, it wasn’t until her positron emission tomography (PET) scan that she realized the severity of it all.

Cancer Battle: How Georgia McLennan Fought Burkitt Lymphoma

burkitt lymphoma

By the time she knew of the tumors, Georgia’s abdomen had swollen to the point where she looked six months pregnant. That’s because every organ in that area had been plagued by cancer.

“All these radiologists came into the room to look at me… They couldn’t believe how healthy I looked given what they found inside me.”

The doctors diagnosed Georgia with Burkitt lymphoma. It’s an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that targets and spreads from immune cells (i.e., B-cells). In most cases, including Georgia McLennan’s, Burkitt lymphoma tumors grow rapidly, affecting the chest, abdomen, central nervous system, brain, and spine.[2] It can sometimes develop into Burkitt’s leukemia, which affects the white blood cell count developed in the bone marrow. 

“[A] hematologist initially didn’t feel it was lymphoma as I didn’t have all the usual symptoms such as extreme weight loss, rashes, fevers and drenching night sweats.”[3]

Other Symptoms of Burkitt Lymphoma

They can also include:[2]

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained fever
  • Weight loss

“When I saw the scan, I realized this is very bad… I found out later they thought I was going to die that weekend… I didn’t even have my mum there because I hadn’t really worried it was cancer.”

To fight the Burkitt lymphoma, Georgia was left with minimal options for treatment but chose an aggressive three-month program. In it, she received:[1]

  • Daily chemotherapy
  • 10 sets of weekly spinal infections to battle the disease

Now, at 24-years-old, her wish is to become an oncology nurse. Although Georgia’s not yet out of the weeds, her Burkitt lymphoma is in remission and she’s even using her Instagram page ‘Being Brave’ to share her cancer battle and hopefully inspire others who are on a similar journey.

“I feel like I can be there for people, I can understand what they’re going through.”

What You Need to Know About Burkitt Lymphoma


I’m getting so many questions everyday about how I was able to handle chemotherapy and remain so positive. The one thing that helped me the most was that I really focused on all the good things about my treatment. If you focus on one day at a time and all the great things that happen each day it makes a big difference. 💗 I also wanted to address that everyone handles chemotherapy completely differently. For starters, different cancers having different chemotherapy protocols and within these protocols are further modifications. I was very lucky because I didn’t have any major complications or get that sick. For me the anti-nausea medications and steroids worked really well- most days I actually felt pretty good considering. I understand that for a lot of people chemotherapy is much harder and my prayers are with you all.

A post shared by Being Brave🎗 (@georgiamclennan) on

Depending on the type of Burkitt lymphoma someone has, the symptoms vary. This type of cancer can develop in and affect the jaw or other facial bones, ovaries, breasts, and gastrointestinal tract.

In the U.S., Burkitt lymphoma usually begins as a tumor in the abdomen like Georgia McLennan’s did. From there, cancer can affect the spleen, liver, bone marrow, testes, ovaries, and spread to the brain and spinal fluid.[4]

Who Is at Risk for Burkitt Lymphoma?

This form of cancer is most often seen in children and people with compromised immune systems. In fact, it’s quite rare in adults but when it does occur, doctors suggest chemotherapy as it’s the fasted and most effective way to attack the rapidly growing disease.[4]

Georgia McLennan seemed to live an active and healthy lifestyle but, for whatever reason, she was still affected by Burkitt lymphoma. So, to help lower your risk of cancer naturally, check out the following articles:

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