On 10th October 2005, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), something that I couldn’t even spell!
It all started when I had been feeling under the weather for a few weeks. As I am not a sickly person, I just carried on and thought it would go away. I mainly had no energy and was feeling tired. As part of my job I do a lot of travelling in the car and sometimes I will pull in a lay-by and have ten minute shut eye. I had noticed myself falling asleep and waking up after an hour or sometimes longer. This had been going on for a few weeks.
I then developed a bruise on my leg which was the size of a frying pan. I knew when I had done it—just a tackle in a football match. I also started getting bruises all over my legs which I just put down to football and never thought much of it.
A week before I was diagnosed, I played football and had to come off because I just didn’t have the energy, which probably gave me the kick to ring the doctors. During my wait to see the doctor I had developed an abscess on the back of my teeth. As I hadn’t been to the dentist or doctors for years, I had to see an emergency dentist. I had an appointment with the doctors on the Friday morning and the dentist in the afternoon.
On the Thursday night I was late back from work around seven o’clock. I came in and went straight to bed. I woke up the Friday morning with terrible toothache, a sore throat and generally feeling down. I rang my boss and said, “I will not be in today as I have to sort myself out; I will see you Monday.” This was my first ever day off with my employer who I had been with for three years.
I went to the doctors; he said my problem was the abscess and when that was sorted I should be okay. I took his word for it and went home, but I felt even worse. I called my wife and she came home and took me to hospital. All the nurses in A&E were very concerned as I looked like I was going to pass out. They got a doctor to see me and he said again it was that abscess. I went to the dentist in the afternoon and he cleared the abscess up. He gave me some strong antibiotics and said I should have pain relief within 12 hours. That night I never slept a wink, I actually spent the next two nights watching rubbish television.
I spent the next day on the settee watching football and watching the results coming in. That night I was really sick, and the next morning I got up and went to A&E again, where the doctor told me I had the wrong antibiotics and gave me some more.
Monday morning, I got up and felt worse, so I made an emergency appointment at the doctors. I had a shower but, as I got out, I fainted. My brother came round to give me a lift as my wife had to sort the kids.
I went to the doctors to see another GP I had not met before. I never actually said anything to her as I fainted as I walked through the door. I have found out since that she was a haematology doctor and probably had an idea what I had. So, she called an ambulance which took me to Stafford Hospital.
They took blood from me and examined me a lot. At that point, I just didn’t care what they did as long as it made me feel better. It was all a bit of a blur.
I was given a blood transfusion that before this would have really spooked me. I was given things called platelets which I had never heard of before, and then got very familiar with and spent my first night in hospital since I was born.
The next day I was told I was to have a bone marrow test. As I was not thinking properly, I didn’t have a clue what this was, and to be honest did not give a monkeys. My wife had been reading things on the internet and fearing the worse. She had told some friends of ours she thought I may have leukaemia; they thought she had gone off her rocker.
That day I had my bone marrow test just under a local; it is probably the worst thing that happened to me. The pain was unbelievable all down my legs and up my back. It really scared me about having any more. I have had lots more since and they don’t really bother me now as long as I have sedation.
Wednesday was results day. I was feeling a lot better due to the blood transfusions and was transferred from the emergency assessment unit onto the haematology ward. The consultant came to see me and said he had the results but wanted to tell me when I had some loved ones around. My wife was at work and my mum and dad were on holiday in Dubai. So, I said, “Don’t be daft, just tell me,” not knowing what he was going to say. He sat next to me and said, “Results from Stafford show—but need confirming from Birmingham—that you have leukaemia.” I just sat there and said, “What, cancer?” He said yes, and I broke down in tears. I don’t think he could stand a 28-year-old bloke crying his eyes out. Then the ward sister, Bev, came in.
I remember my phone then ringing. It was my Uncle Graham. He said, “Are you alright?” I said, “No, I have got bloody leukaemia.” He said, “Don’t worry, it will be okay and I will be there in a bit.”
I then rang my wife; she felt so ill from it her boss drove her home where my brother picked her up and brought her to the hospital. In the time they took to get the hospital, ward sister Bev was telling me all the things that would be going on in the next few months. It was then it hit me. I started worrying about Sophie – my daughter, Kay – my wife, work, the mortgage.
That night I was put into an isolation room with a TV, microwave, fridge and its own bathroom. It was quite nice except it was hospital.
The next day I had my first ever general anaesthetic and had my Hickman line fitted. The next day I started chemo for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), the first round of four.
The next six weeks are a bit of a blur, mainly because I felt really ill and never wanted to eat. I lost four stone and all my hair. I had chemo for ten days and had to wait for my immune system to recover; this took a further four weeks. During this time, I never ate.
After this I was able to go home for the first time but only for a weekend. I got to my own house with some of the family there, but it seemed very strange and I actually wanted to be in hospital where I felt safe. Yet this is where I actually had some tea, and after this I ate fairly normal except when I was having chemo.
These were probably the hardest times for me mentally as I was really bored and missed being able to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to. I was in the same room on and off for 117 nights over five months. I never thought about death once—I was always worried about when I could get out and get back to work or go on holidays. I had to keep thinking about all the positive things that I had to look forward to.
During my last few weeks in hospital an 18-year-old girl called Lisa moved into the next room to me. I used to go and see her and chat about various experiences I had. For me at the time it was somebody to talk to. I found out later that Lisa and her mum were so pleased to talk to me, as it helped them get through the experience easier. During my experience, I never had anybody to talk to and ask questions as the doctors always seemed to keep me in the dark and the nurses were all busy.
What I would say to anybody in the same position is to stay positive and think of the things you are going to do when you get out. I was very lucky to have a loving family round me. The company I worked for stood by me and put me under no pressure to go back.
After I had finished all my treatment and was back at work I was browsing through the internet and came across Leukaemia Care. I was disappointed I hadn’t heard of them before and instantly decided that I wanted to become a volunteer and gave Dawn Knott a ring.
From the day I left hospital, I never had any more treatment, although I had tests for the following five years. I’m now 43 and have been in remission ever since.