Charlotte Tarbuck: my story

32-year-old Charlotte was celebrating one of the happiest days of her life. She and boyfriend Neal had just had an offer accepted on their first home together, but then her world came crashing down when she was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Charlotte shares her story here…

I was 32 and had started noticing that I was bruising very easily. I have always been clumsy and am always walking into things, so I never thought too much about it. Looking back, I was feeling pretty fatigued too, but I just put this down to long hours working in hospitality. Then one day, I knocked myself at work and when I got home and started to get undressed, my boyfriend Neal couldn’t believe the bruise on my leg. It was deep purple and about the size of a tennis ball. He persuaded me to get it checked out at the doctor, so I called the next day to get an appointment. I was told I would have to ring at 8am the next morning, so I decided to go on to the NHS app and try to book one instead. I managed to get a telephone appointment two weeks later. 

During this period, I was pretty distracted and had soon put the appointment out of my mind. We had been house-hunting to purchase our first home and in all the excitement, I had totally forgotten about the telephone appointment. Two weeks later, my phone rang and to my surprise, it was the doctor.  I explained about the bruises and she asked me to come in for a blood test. I didn’t think it was much to worry about – I just thought I had some kind of deficiency.

Around the same time as all this was going on, we had actually had an offer accepted on a house. On the day of my blood test, I went to the doctor at 8am and then we had an appointment to go and apply for our mortgage. After the mortgage had been sorted, Neal and I went out for the day, had lunch together and even popped to Ikea for some decorating ideas. It was a great day.

However when we got home at about 6pm, I noticed a missed call from the doctor and a text message asking me to call the surgery ASAP. I returned the call and spoke to the receptionist who told me that my results were back and that I needed to go straight to New Cross Hospital where Haematology would be waiting for me. 

Neal drove me to New Cross and I had to wait in A&E for about two hours. It was September 2021 and we were still coming out of Covid so he wasn’t allowed in with me. Once I got called through, I was told that my blood test had shown that my white blood cell count was 275 (the normal amount is between 5 and 11). The doctor told me he was going to do another blood test to see  if there had been an error in results. Another hour later and he called me: it was no error. Something more sinister was at play and I just had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I started to cry and he held his hand out and told me to call Neal and tell him to come in to be with me.

I was then moved to another ward for several other tests and X-rays and as a new doctor came to see me, Neal asked:  “Are we talking about Cancer?”.  He just replied: “I’m afraid so, yes”. These are the words you never want to hear. One of the happiest days of our lives, planning for our future and our new house, had turned into the worst day ever.  The Life Insurance policy I had taken out earlier that day was now invalid.

The next day, I was moved again and the Haematology Consultant came to see me. She explained that they suspected I had leukaemia. However, they were unsure whether it was acute or chronic (AML or CML). She went on to explain them both. Weirdly, I prayed for the chronic version, something I have never got my head around, praying for a type of cancer…. and when the results came back it was confirmed, I had CML (chronic myeloid leukaemia)

I am now nearly two years into my diagnosis and I have changed medication twice. Imatinib did not work for me, so I am now on Dasatinib and things are going in the right direction. It has been hard coming to terms with the knowledge that I will probably be taking it for the rest of my life and this means facing a future without being able to have a family.

I have had amazing support from Neal who has had his own health battles, having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes the year before my diagnosis. It has been a tough time, but we are definitely there for each other.  And next week, we will finally be moving into our new home which is an exciting new start at last!Charlotte has been grateful for the help she received from Leukaemia Care’s Counselling fund which enabled her to see a local counsellor:

“It was so helpful for me to be able to talk to someone who could help me come to terms with my diagnosis and who allows me to express how I really feel. People think that because you look well, everything must be fine.  But it is hard coming to terms with having a long-term condition, coping with the side effects of the medication, the anxiety of having reviews and blood tests every few months and dealing with the realisation that at the age of 32, I may never be a mum.”

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