Gina Haywood

In 2018, 18 year old Gina began feeling dizzy and lethargic. She visited the GP, and from there, a whirlwind of hospital appointments, chemotherapy sessions and a stem cell transplant occurred. Here, she tells her Spot Leukaemia story…

“I had been feeling lethargic and often dizzy, usually when I ran up the stairs. I was also experiencing sensitivity to light, often when driving home late at night in the dark for a few weeks. Nothing was a major concern for me, as all of my symptoms were vague and pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I always seemed to feel better after a good night’s sleep and a restful day.

I also appeared rather pale, which family members seemed concerned about, but assumed I would just need a blood test and possibly a blood transfusion. I visited the GP, who told me I had a temperature, but no signs of infection. Right when he was about to send me home, he pulled down my eyelid to look underneath, and then told me he was sending me to the local hospital for a blood test. There and then he called up the ward to get me seen as promptly as possible.

As my mum and dad were at work, I went with my boyfriend Connor. This was the first blood test I had ever had; we were only 18 and 19 at the time so I was petrified, and I even nearly fainted too! After my bloods were taken, a nurse asked me to get my mum there, and then asked for my dad too. They took us off to a side room, where the doctor blurted out, “Your blood film is showing you have leukaemia, and we need to get you to a specialist hospital right now.”

At the time I didn’t associate leukaemia with cancer; they didn’t explain anything to me, and it just didn’t click. I was blue-lighted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Birmingham – 32 miles away from home. It was only as I was looking at the signs and saw the words ‘Teenage Cancer Trust Unit’ that I realised what was happening.

I spent the night on the unit with my mum. The day after, I was told my only chance of survival was a stem cell transplant because I had a rare and fast-growing subtype of leukaemia – philadelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which meant chemotherapy today wasn’t going to cure me.

So, I began chemotherapy and was in hospital initially for six weeks. I came home for a couple of weeks; however, I was neutropenic and picked up an infection, so I was back in for another two weeks. Whilst this was all happening, they were still searching for a stem cell donor. I had a rare tissue type, and it would be hard to find a donor, so it was amazing when a 10/10 match was found with somebody from the Czech Republic.

I had the attitude that whatever needed to be done was done. I had chemotherapy injected into my spine, a PICC line, Hickman line and for my stem cell transplant I had to have radiotherapy. I lost my hair through chemotherapy, but it really didn’t bother me because I knew it would grow back, and when it did it was darker and really curly!

For almost the entirety of December, I was in the hospital for the transplant – including Christmas day, when   I would rather be at home celebrating. However, I came over that New Year’s Eve, and I have been home ever since! The whole thing was a whirlwind – I was diagnosed in August, and all of my treatments were finished by the end of the year.

Finally, in February 2022 after chemotherapy, radiotherapy, my stem-cell transplant, two doses of donor-lymphocyte infusions. I still take a low dose of chemotherapy via tablets daily, and I am going to continue to take those for as long as my body reacts well to them.

A campaign such as Spot Leukaemia is incredibly important. The signs and symptoms of blood cancer should be second nature to every single person so they can get professional help for any concerns they may have. I had no family history of any blood disorders or cancer at all, which also didn’t make me assume my symptoms were cancer, particularly as I didn’t have a physical lump or rash. In turn, my diagnosis came as a complete shock and didn’t feel quite real at the time. That is why it is so important to know the signs and symptoms, as it is so important to save people’s lives!”

Do you know what the six most common signs and symptoms of leukaemia are? They are:

  • Fatigue
  • 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

Early diagnosis saves lives.donate

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-cell ALL)

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-cell ALL) is an acute leukaemia in which too many abnormal T-cells are produced in the bone marrow. T-cell ALL is a more aggressive subtype of ALL compared with B-cell ALL. Within these webpages you will find out what it is, the symptoms to look out for, how to diagnose it and treatment options.

Read More