Thought the TB was cancer

Name: Airi Inkeri
Age: 78
Diagnosed: in 2018
Work: retired nurse

Airi Inkeri. Photo: Rebecka Uhlin

“Last Christmas, a lump started growing on my neck. A pretty large one, about the size of an apricot. I immediately thought I had cancer, and I got scared. The tests showed that I had a bacterial infection and I was prescribed antibiotics, but the lump continued to grow instead of getting smaller. After some time, I received a phone call from the infection clinic in Huddinge, and they asked me to stop by. At the clinic, they performed a chest x-ray and tested my saliva twice.

The doctor told me ‘Congratulations, you do not have cancer, but you do have glandular tuberculosis. But do not worry, its treatable and you will get well.’ I immediately thought of my father and brother who both died of tuberculosis, but at the same time I found comfort in my doctor saying that there was treatment now and that you can recover. But in that moment when I received the diagnosis I felt like I was going to faint.

I had a tough upbringing in Finland, where we lived in a two-room house in a poor rural area after the war. Many died of tuberculosis back then. My father and brother coughed a lot. I was only seven when my father died. I still wonder about how I came down with tuberculosis now. I used to work in healthcare, and I have been a blood donor for 25 years, yet no one found the disease I was carrying. My doctor told me that the disease can lay dormant in the body, and apparently that is exactly what it had done since I got it 70 years ago from my family in Finland. I had to take medicine in various doses for six months, and I have been very particular about it.

Now I am well, and I have started to gain back the weight I lost during my illness. My most important message to those who get tuberculosis is that it will be alright, you can get well.”

As told to: Anna-Maria E. Alsand, first published in Swedish in Medicinsk Vetenskap No 3/2018.

Content reviewer: