Ominous email from an immigration officer was Rachel’s only warning before ‘sinister’ discovery

An email from her immigration officer was the only warning Rachael Murphy got before a world-shaking diagnosis at age 30.

Looking back now, two years later, she admits to 9honey she “didn’t think it would be as sinister as it was”.

Born and raised in the UK, the 32-year-old moved to Australia in 2015 and decided to pursue permanent residency in 2022, which involved a ton of paperwork and a few routine health checks.

A fit and healthy young woman, she assumed she’d passed them all until an email appeared in her inbox a few months later.

“It said, ‘You failed the chest x-ray. Immigration want you to go and see a specialist,'” Murphy tells 9honey. 

“I honestly didn’t have a clue what it was or what it could be. I was just asking my immigration officer, ‘Who do I need to go and see? What are the next steps to resolve this?'”

More worried about her visa than anything, she went to her GP to organise more tests and mentioned she was due to return to the UK in a few weeks’ time.

He stopped her in her tracks, warning: “You can’t go to the UK for at least a month. This needs to be resolved, this needs to be a priority, this is pretty sinister.”

Suddenly nervous, Murphy called her parents.

“I’m not coming back,” she told them from the other side of the world, “but I can’t really tell you why yet, because I don’t really know.”

A blur of tests, biopsies and specialist appointments followed, where two words kept popping up: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Murphy hoped the doctors’ suspicions would be proven wrong but when masses were uncovered in her chest and neck, she knew to brace herself for the worst.

At 30, Murphy was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system that can be deadly.

She had no obvious symptoms and if she hadn’t failed her visa health check, she may never have even known she was sick.

“It didn’t seem real. I was like, ‘Do I need to go home? What do I do?'” Murphy says.

“I needed to know what was going to happen to me, what the next steps were, so I could figure out if I was able to do it on my own.”

Though the five-year survival rate for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is over 87 per cent, Murphy needed to start treatment right away so the disease didn’t spread.

Her first thoughts were of her family; not just those back home in the UK, but the family she wanted to start one day with Mick.

Cancer treatment can take a huge toll on a woman’s fertility, so she went in for an urgent round of egg retrieval days after her diagnosis. 

It was all she could do on such short notice. The next week, Murphy started chemo.

Until then she hadn’t felt sick, but the chemo side effects hit her “like a ton of bricks”.

“It felt like the saliva in my mouth was acid, it was burning all the time, which made it very difficult to eat,” she says. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this for the next three months.'”

Murphy had fevers and chills, excruciating phantom jaw pain and felt horribly sick throughout her first round of chemo.

Though her team found a way to manage the side-effects, it left her with terrible anxiety about having to go through another 14 weeks of chemo and radiation.

“It was probably the first time I’d ever experienced anxiety. I had a couple of anxiety attacks and me and Mick would walk around in the middle of the night just to calm me down,” she reveals.

Mick was always there for her, but he could only take so much time off work and with her family thousands of kilometres away in the UK, Murphy often felt isolated.

The mental toll only got worse when she began to lose her hair.

“Going out of the house with a wig on, that really knocked my confidence,” she says. “I knew I was sick, but like the minute that my hair started falling out, everyone else could see it.”

Despite her struggles, Murphy kept working and maintained an active social life during treatment, focusing on the small wins every day.

“It sounds really weird, but I just tried to get on with it because I thought, ‘No one else is gonna do this for me,'” she says.

It was a tough slog but after months of brutal treatment, Murphy finally got good news; she was in remission.

The first thing she did was book a flight home.

“It was such a weird thing, wearing a wig on a flight for 24 hours,” she laughs.

“I was able to be with my family and just rest up for about six weeks, it was so good to finally do that.”

That was over a year ago and today Murphy has a clean bill of health – as well as permanent residency.

Now 32, she’s sharing her story to inspire other Australians to get behind vital cancer research efforts.

Murphy is leading by example and taking part in the 2km A Day in May fitness challenge to raise money and awareness for all cancers, not just Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“I was really lucky in the sense that, for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the treatment success rate is pretty high compared to other cancers,” she says.

“But obviously not everyone’s as lucky [and] research is the key to levelling the playing field, so everyone can take comfort in the fact that there are good treatments available.”

Too many cancers are in desperate need of funding and research, but Murphy hopes to see a future where every Aussie diagnosed with cancer survives.

Rachael’s story highlights the life-saving potential of early detection, medical advancements and the crucial role of research in developing better treatments. Click here for more info and to get involved with 2km A Day In May.

This article originally appeared on 9Honey, here.