My friends used to call me Bart Simpson when I became jaundiced, little did we know that it was leukaemia. It was 1998 and I was in the final years of school, looking ahead to college and to all that life had to offer. I was in the middle of work experience when the manager told me I didn’t look well. I bumped into some friends who pointed out the yellow pigment of my skin, comparing me to the famous Springfield resident.
I got home and my parents agreed they should take me to the GP. I was told it was probably some sort of virus, but my parents insisted I should have a blood test. The blood test results came back: “I have some rather important news. I’m sorry to tell you Ben has leukaemia.”
I looked at my mum. I had heard of leukaemia but I didn’t know what it was, although I knew it wasn’t good. I was taken to the hospital and from that moment my life completely changed. I was diagnosed with ALL. My parents were praised for insisting on a blood test as my jaundice (albeit rare) was an indication. I underwent intensive chemotherapy for a total of four years.
At first, I didn’t know how to feel, but the prospect of being ill for such a long period of time hit me hard. I was scared, shocked, and distant, but at 15 I never understood the severity of my diagnosis.
I spent years in and out of the hospital with side effects that still affect me today. I am 6 ft 5 and I had dropped to eight stone which of course came with its complications. I’ll never forget the first time I looked in the mirror after starting chemotherapy. I screamed and burst into tears. I was like a skeleton and no longer looked like my twin brother Andy.
Remission was difficult. Even though the leukaemia had left my body, mentally it stayed with me for a while. As weird as it sounds, I was scared of a life without leukaemia and chemotherapy. I had wanted it to stop for so long, and when it did I was of course relieved but I also felt an indescribable emptiness.
On the other hand, rather than feeling like I had been cured, I was always asking “Will it come back?” which is a trait I have carried on further into life.
My family have helped me get through this; this wasn’t just my diagnosis, it was all of ours. It became a part of our lives, and it wasn’t until later on in life I understood what impact it must have had on them.
Do you know what the six most common signs and symptoms of leukaemia are? They are:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever or night sweats
- Bruising or bleeding
- Bone/joint pain
- Repeated infections
Are you currently experiencing any of these signs and symptoms? If so, contact your GP and ask for a blood test.
For more information on our Spot Leukaemia campaign, our goal and how to get involved, head over to our official Spot Leukaemia website at www.spotleukaemia.org.uk