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Deborah Linford was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2003, two weeks after getting married. Here, she tells us about her journey and how her sister saved her life.
It all started on October 25th 2003. It was my wedding day and I remember nervously waiting to walk down the aisle to the love of my life, Shane. My bridesmaid kindly pointed out to me that I had a nice big bruise on my arm saying ‘Debbie, look at that bruise! What have you done?’ No one wants a bruise on their arm on their wedding day, but I was so excited that day, I didn’t let it bother me.
After the wedding, Shane and I flew to Madrid for our honeymoon. As we were leaving, Shane noticed some bruises on my legs. I didn't remember knocking myself, I just assumed I’d done it accidently, so brushed them off.
On the honeymoon, I felt more tired than usual and was worn out from seeing the sights. I put it down to stress, the excitement of the wedding and months of organisation; I certainly didn’t connect the fatigue with the bruises.
Once I was back from our honeymoon, I went back to work, still feeling exhausted. One day, my secretary dropped a piece of paper onto my finger. It only brushed against me but broke the skin and I started to bleed. I couldn’t believe it! Anaemia crossed my mind as my mum had been anaemic and suffered similar symptoms. Not thinking it was anything serious, I still didn’t pay my GP a visit. However, I became really worried when a rash appeared on my legs so I booked an appointment to see my doctor. He took a blood sample – routine, I thought – so wasn’t concerned. Alarm bells started ringing when I had a call from the surgery, asking me to come back in. Shane came into the room with me and the doctor sat me down before explaining that I had acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and I needed to be admitted to hospital.
I couldn’t speak. I had just got married. How could this be happening? We got home and both Shane and myself were in tears. We rang some family members to tell them the news. We were both in shock.
The next day, we drove to Hull Royal Infirmary. I felt sick with nerves and couldn’t get my head around the fact that just 24 hours after visiting my GP, I was having my bone marrow extracted and examined. The results showed that I had a high white blood cell count, which needed to be reduced before chemotherapy started. I was nervous about starting chemotherapy because I actually felt fine and knew the treatment would make me fell ill. My first course of chemo left me feeling okay, but a few days later, my hair started to fall out. I was thankful that I hadn’t experienced any nausea, which I was dreading. Doctors told me that my best chances of surviving was to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
My sister, Rachel, was desperate to help after finding out that we had a 25% chance of a sibling being a match for me. Although in the back of my mind, it was niggling away at me that my body could still reject the transplant, I could still die.
Amazingly, Rachel was a match and the transplant went ahead in March 2004. I was absolutely delighted but I knew there was still a chance that by body would reject it. However, it didn’t.
From this terrible experience, came some good. Rachel and I have a special bond that no one can break. My marriage is strong and Shane proved his vows to me by sticking by my side and not allowing me to fight this battle alone.
Following my diagnosis, Shane wanted to do anything and everything he could to help. He started his quest by becoming a registered bone marrow donor. Just like Rachel saved my life, Shane wanted to save the life of someone out there too. Incredibly, he was soon found to be a bone marrow match for someone; he was a lifesaver.
As a couple, we’ve done it all; a full circle - one as a donor and the other as a receiver. We have been truly blessed through this whole experience and can now look to the future, together!
In many ways what I went through now seems like a distance memory but believe it has created strength in our marriage and my relationship with my sister that will never be broken. It makes you appreciate event the smallest of things.
I returned to work only months after my transplant having been told at the outset of my treatment that that I would have to put 12 to 18 months aside before going back to work. Whilst this was a phased return I believe returning to something of normality helped in regaining my strength more quickly, although for a long time I did become easily fatigued.
I am a family and matrimonial solicitor and feel I am able to help people through often one of the most difficult times in their lives having experienced difficulties myself. I now work full time and have a four-year-old daughter who has just started school and keeps us very busy! I know I’m very lucky.
It’s hard to believe one innocent looking bruise meant that I could’ve died. If I hadn’t have gone to the doctors, who knows what would’ve happened. But I’m still here, loving life and very much looking to the future.