Jan Henry: My story

When unfamiliar bruises appear, how many of us consider leukaemia as the answer? When Jan investigated her bruising further, she was shocked that it resulted in an acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) diagnosis.

My name is Jan, and on my first day as a Senior Sister, I was diagnosed with AML.

I had been spending the morning adjusting to wearing a dress. Whilst clutching at my tights, batting off the unusual feeling of fabric clinging to my skin, I went to brush away something I thought was caught onto them. However, upon a closer look, the marks was actually purpuric bruises.

I went to show one of my new colleagues, a rheumatology specialist nurse who immediately got me in to see her consultant. 

I had an enlarged spleen, but the consultant shrugged his shoulders and sent me for a blood test. Like a homing pigeon, I was drawn back to my A&E work buddies for an anxious wait. 

What came next, well to say I was astounded is an understatement. It was almost certain I had AML, and my diagnosis was later confirmed the next morning. Just like that, I was off to Manchester Hospital.

Despite my career as a nurse Sister in A&E, I had no prior experience of leukaemia; I knew it was a cancer of the blood cells but I had no idea of all the different types and subsets. I was computer illiterate at diagnosis, so I had no information to go on apart from what the consultant had told me.

On arrival at the hospital, we had a frank, scary but positive discussion with the Professor. I had a 50% chance of surviving the first round of chemotherapy.

My lovely late husband, Dave, and I went for a walk, sat on a bench, taking in the gravity of what we had just been told. It was a cold clear night, and we wondered whether it would be the last starry sky I would ever see.

It was only after seeing the Hickman line for the first time that the stark, shocking reality of seeing myself as an ill person started to sink in.

Ready to start my first round of chemotherapy, I asked if Dave could stay with me. We needed each other. We had to fight for that, but I was glad we did as he was such wonderful support.

I was determined I would recover before my son’s birthday, and I did! The chemotherapy sent me into my first remission. Sighs of relief all around.

The next round of chemotherapy saw me admitted, at my request, to our local hospital on December 21st. Christmas Day was spent in the hospital with my family. We watched Jungle Book, opened our gifts and had a happy day.

But, Boxing Day brought the saddest day imaginable, when my son Ben found my beloved Mam had died from an acute

asthma attack. Dave came to tell me the devastating news in my isolation room. We were all absolutely crushed.

I went home to be with my family, and four weeks later I was back in my isolation room having my third round of chemotherapy.

Round four came, and I was back in Manchester preparing for a bone marrow transplant. I was told it would increase my chances of survival to 60%. 

I was lucky enough that my sister, Gill, was a perfect match, and I had my bone marrow transplant.

11 months after my diagnosis, I was back at work. It took five years to admit to myself that the constant fatigue and lack of concentration was all too much and I took ill health retirement. But here I am, aged 66, still alive and kicking. 

To the NHS and to my sister, I owe my life. I even have two lily tattoos on my pelvis, marking the spots of many bone marrow biopsies. 

Thank goodness for tights and being in the right place at the right time.

Did you know that less than 1% of the UK public can name the top three symptoms of leukaemia?

We are the UK’s leading leukaemia charity, raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia and the importance of an early diagnosis.

Join us in September for Blood Cancer Awareness Month as we will be kicking off our Spot Leukaemia campaign once again. We need your help reaching the general public so that everyone can Spot Leukaemia sooner.

Find out more here.

How can you help?

This year we’re asking a slightly different question. 

Who spotted your symptoms? 

If a grandchild, parent or a close family member/friend spotted your symptoms before you did, we would love to hear from you. 

Get in contact to find out more on sharing your story by emailing us at communications@leukaemiacare.org.uk

Early diagnosis saves lives.


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