The facts about Sir Sam Neill’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Jurassic World Dominion: Sam Neill and Laura Dern star in trailer

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Actor Sir Sam Neill revealed he had a “ferocious type of aggressive” non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Diagnosed with stage three cancer in March 2022, Neill thought he was “dying”. To help distract himself from the life-threatening diagnosis, he penned a memoir, Did I Ever Tell You This?

Discussing his illness, Neill told the BBC the book gave him “a reason to get through the day”.

The 75-year-old penned that he had found lumpy glands in his neck while on a publicity tour for Jurassic World Dominion.

When he lost his hair after his first round of chemotherapy, Neill wrote in the memoir that looking in the mirror back at him was a “bald, wizened old man”.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The NHS explains this type of cancer “develops in the lymphatic system”, which is a “network of vessels and glands” spread throughout the body.

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In a healthy lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system, clear fluid flows through the lymphatic vessels.

Inside the clear fluid are infection-fighting white blood cells, known as lymphocytes.

People diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have lymphocytes that are multiplying abnormally, meaning they lose their infection-fighting capabilities.

“In the UK, more than 13,000 people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma each year,” the NHS adds.

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Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The “most common” symptom of the disease is a “painless swelling in a lymph node”, which can be in the neck, armpit or groin.

The glands typically swell up in response to an infection, so other signs of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can include:

  • Night sweats
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fever
  • Feelings of breathlessness
  • Persistent itching of the skin all over the body.

There are four main stages of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, stage one to stage four.

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Stage one non-Hodgkin lymphoma refers to the cancer being limited to one group of lymph nodes, such as the armpits.

Stage two is diagnosed when two or more lymph node groups are affected, but is only present on one side of the diaphragm.

Stage three, which Neill was diagnosed with, refers to cancer that has spread to lymph node groups on both sides of the diaphragm.

As for stage four, the cancer has spread beyond the lymphatic system, affecting either the organs or bone marrow.

Chemotherapy, the treatment that Neill underwent, can lead to side effects, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Increased vulnerability to infection
  • Bleeding and bruising more easily.

Other side effects could include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Tiredness
  • Skin rashes
  • Hair loss.

Neill is currently in remission, choosing to focus on “living”, but medical check-ups will be needed.

According to the NHS, “you’ll need regular follow-up appointments to monitor your recovery and check for any signs of the cancer returning”.

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