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Kate Sturgess

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Kate Sturgess

I was diagnosed in June 2002, aged 15. I was quite poorly five to six weeks prior to being diagnosed. I kept getting a sore throat and a headache, but it wasn’t to the extent where it was stopping me from doing my day-to-day things. I was actually working in a pub at the time as a kitchen porter, so I was still managing to go to work in the evenings, but I was coming back absolutely shattered.

I was living with my auntie at the time and she said to me, “I’m a bit worried, you’re always tired all the time.” I just put it down to working in a pub, not getting home till midnight, and being a normal 15-year-old, hanging out with my friends till early hours.

That was until one day I was due to meet my friend at the park at seven. That day, I just had a really bad sore throat and a bit of a temperature. She asked me if I was still coming and I said yes, but I lay on the sofa and just fell asleep. My auntie came back from work around half past four. “I don’t like the look of you,” she said, “you look really poorly.” I told her I was fine but she insisted I see the doctor.

We managed to get an emergency appointment with a doctor I’d not seen before. She had a look at my throat and said she thought I just had a bit of tonsillitis, so plenty of fluids and plenty of rest. As I was walking out of the surgery, I saw our family doctor, Dr Wilson. He asked how I was and I said I just had a really sore throat. He asked me to come into his room for a second and he had a thorough look. He then said he wanted to send me over to the hospital just for some blood tests. I explained I was supposed to be meeting my friend later, but he said, “Well, go and have these blood tests and see what they come back as.”

I went over to the general hospital, had bloods, and within an hour me and my auntie got taken into a room by a doctor and I was told that I had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). I’d never heard of it. I was fifteen; you don’t really hear about those things when you’re that age.

When I was diagnosed, they said that I had 98% cancer cells in my body and I had to start treatment immediately. If I didn’t see my doctor coming out of that surgery, with the amount of cancer cells I had in my body, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

I was sent to the childhood cancer ward straight away. All I remember is being on G level, in a bed on a normal ward, and then being taken round to this other ward, which was Piam Brown. I remember seeing children walking around with their IV drips in and no hair. I asked why I had been brought here, and then my auntie explained, “Look Kate, you’ve got cancer and you’re really poorly, you need to start treatment straight away.”

At one point, I remember my auntie speaking to a doctor and actually arranging for a vicar to come up to see me. As I got older, I realised how serious it actually was, how poorly I actually was, because back then I just thought ‘oh I’m poorly, I’ll have some medicine and I’ll be better’. But from the day I got diagnosed, I was in hospital for eight months.

I would go for chemotherapy three times a week. At one time, I kept saying to the nurses that I was getting really bad headaches. They said it was just the chemo, but then one day I collapsed on the bathroom floor. My mum rang an ambulance and I got admitted to hospital again. That’s when they found that I had a blood clot on my brain, on the left side, and it actually made me go blind in my left eye. Because of that, I had to stop treatment so that they could treat the blood clot. I had to inject myself three times a day, and then when it was small enough I started treatment again. They said that this blood clot literally covered the left side of my whole brain; that’s why I went blind, because it was pressing in on my eye muscle, and it was the treatment that caused it.

When I was 15, the worst thing about having leukaemia was losing my hair. I had long, blonde, straight hair down to my bum and I loved my hair. Obviously, when all that came out, it was absolutely devastating. I was also eight stone when I was diagnosed, but because of the steroids I went from eight stone to sixteen and a half stone in three weeks.

I was 19 when I went into remission. I had a meeting with my consultant and she explained that, because of the intense chemo that I had, there had been no time to talk about freezing my eggs. She said it was near on impossible for my body to be strong enough to carry a child.

Being 19, I thought ‘oh well, children don’t really matter at the moment’. I spoke to my husband about it, my boyfriend at the time, and he was fine with it, because he was a little bit younger than me, he was only 17, so of course he wasn’t thinking about children anyway. But when I turned 21, the realisation hit that I couldn’t have children.

However, when I was 22 I did fall pregnant, but I had a miscarriage. I spoke to the doctors about it and they were like this is what we mean, you could fall pregnant but your body’s just not strong enough to carry children. I think that’s when it really hit me. It hurt, and I just couldn’t get my head around not having children.

However, a year later I fell pregnant again, and I had a healthy little girl. And I just carried on having children; I’ve got four now! After I had Victoria, I had another miscarriage and I thought, ‘well maybe I’ve been given my miracle and I’m just not meant to have anymore’. But then I fell pregnant again, and I got to 12 weeks and then 22 weeks and I found out I was having a boy. He was absolutely healthy and perfect. I then lost another child, but then I fell pregnant with William, and then I fell pregnant again and I went on and had Henry, and he’s eight months now.

Having something as bad as leukaemia is obviously awful but my life is great. I think I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t had leukaemia.