Carlina was celebrating her anniversary when she started coughing blood. Then everything changed.

Carlina Lenna is many things. She is a daughter, a partner, a sister. She is a proud police officer, and a survivor of domestic violence. She's faced adversity and, triumphed in spite of it all — including when another devastating curveball was thrown her way.

It was almost a year ago when 27-year-old Carlina and her new partner were celebrating their two-year anniversary.

Life was good. She and her partner were happy and enjoying their careers in the police force, and Carlina was a keen CrossFit enthusiast. But in the months leading up to their anniversary, Carlina's health was off. 

"I had significant swelling in my face, there were rashes in the creases of all my joints like my elbows and behind my knees. There was a persistent cough that led to coughing up blood too," she tells Mamamia

Knowing something wasn't right but not wanting to ruin their plans, Carlina pushed on. 

"My partner and I were celebrating by staying in a hotel in the city. He didn't know that I was coughing up blood. I went to the bathroom and he could hear me and was concerned. He looked in the sink and said 'You really need to go to the doctors tomorrow, no buts.'"

Watch part of Carlina's story. Post continues below.

Video via Cancer Chicks. 

The next day and the coming weeks were filled with doctors' appointments, scans and blood tests. 

Carlina went to pick up one of her scan results, heading to the radiology clinic to get a printout of the report before she left to see her doctor. She decided to look at the report herself, as she had previously worked in radiology and had an understanding of what was 'good' versus 'bad' news. 

As soon as she read the report, she was in tears.

"I saw the words 'advanced malignancy' and my heart just dropped. I was like, 'Well, that's obviously not good.' I called my partner and told him, he was on the job at the time and he just burst out crying and had to come home. He took me to emergency straight after that."

Further tests eventually confirmed that Carlina had cancer, specifically a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

The idea of a prognosis wasn't really discussed, she says, rather the focus was on treatment and getting stuck into it quickly.

"It was a real shock, and it left me feeling numb. I started off with two lots of immunotherapy. Then I had six rounds of chemotherapy, which I finished in December last year. Now I'm on my third round of immunotherapy. Losing my hair and gaining weight made it even more difficult because I no longer recognised myself. I don't really go out too much now, it has knocked a bit of my confidence. You feel like an alien in your own body."

Throughout it all, Carlina say her friends and family have been supporting her every step of the way. Most importantly, their love and encouragement has given her hope again. And hope is a powerful feeling.


Carlina says her partner has been a big support for her during this time. Image: Supplied.

It's something Carlina knows firsthand, the need for support from loved ones in tough times.

"During my teenage years, I endured an extremely volatile relationship. Every moment with that person felt like walking through a minefield, constantly waiting for the next explosion. This experience greatly impacted my self-love and self-worth," she explains.

"However, I was determined to break free from the cycle of abuse and eventually found the courage to leave. Becoming a police officer was not just a career choice for me; it was a powerful response to the adversity I had faced. I knew that firsthand experience would fuel my drive to protect and serve others."


It may sound strange to some, she acknowledges, but for Carlina personally she feels "incredibly grateful" for the experiences she has had. 

"I shouldn't have to learn anything from those experiences of domestic violence or cancer, nor do I wish it on anyone, but I'm proud of the strong woman I am today. Despite these challenges, I've found the strength within myself to overcome and grow," she says. "I have discovered a strength and resilience within myself that I thought I had lost. I'm proud of the person I've become through it all."

Another thing Carlina says she's really thankful for is connecting with other women who know exactly what she is going through thanks to Cancer Chicks.

"Speaking with other girls going through the same thing, at a similar age to me, it's really powerful. You bond very quickly. A lot of people see you going through the struggles, but until you've experienced it firsthand, it's hard to fully relate," she notes.

Carlina has been conquering her fears, as well as connecting with other women going through similar journeys via Cancer Chicks. Image: Supplied.


"I might look okay, I hold myself well. But when I wipe the makeup off I have barely any eyebrows, no eyelashes and I look sick as anything. The same goes when I take my wig off, there are bald patches here and there. But most people don't see all of that. So connecting with people who have gone through it — it means a lot." 

"It's hard to even know where to start when saying how much support I have received from Cancer Chicks. I still remember the first time I attended one of their events, a day retreat, and how special it was."

Today, Carlina's health is looking promising. 

Although it's still too early to use the word 'remission', doctors have told her she is heading down the right path and she should hopefully receive the tentative all-clear soon. Her journey is still ongoing, but she says she's feeling better with each passing day, and that's something to celebrate.


"After completing chemotherapy, I made a conscious decision to start saying 'yes' to more experiences. And you know what, it has been truly transformative. I've gone to Cairns and swam in the deep, dark ocean and I did a heights tree tops activity — both were previously fears of mine. I'm just really excited about what lies ahead.

"I think about the future a lot. I think that's what drives me, and my partner feels the same."

For people who read Carlina's story, she wants them to know something in particular.

"There's support and there are people out there who listen — whether it's in relation to domestic violence, cancer or anything — just know you aren't alone. I've now learned that."

For more from Cancer Chicks and to learn more about the support they offer, visit their website here

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here.

Feature Image: Supplied.