I worked within a 10 minutes’ walk from my home, and noticed that as the weeks went on, I was getting more out of breath on the way to and from work, and generally I was getting more and more tired. As I had just turned 60 years old, I put this down to the ageing process and thought it was just something that I would have to learn to live with. My partner noticed that my skin colour was changing and strongly suggested that I visit my doctor. I made the appointment and explained my symptoms to a young doctor who I hadn’t seen before and he gave me a form to go for blood tests.
Unfortunately, the practice nurse was on holiday, so I couldn’t make the appointment until the day before I was due to fly away on holiday. After a few days, my partner suggested I take the form to my local hospital and get the blood test done there. I did this, and to my surprise the following day my surgery contacted me at work and told me to go to the infirmary as soon as possible.
I went to the hospital and they were already waiting for me. I was admitted onto the oncology ward immediately. Although it is a bit of a blur now, for the next three days I was given blood transfusions and various tests to determine my illness. After the three days I was visited by my consultant and the team and it was explained to me that I had been diagnosed as having high risk myelodysplasia, which was obviously very serious, but hopefully I could be treated with chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. My consultant also explained to me how lucky I had been on seeing that particular GP, as part of his training had been in oncology and he had recognised my symptoms immediately. The consultant also told me that if I had waited for my original blood test on the day before my holiday and the surgery would not have been able to contact me before I actually flew, then the chances were that I would not have got off the plane alive. I consider myself very fortunate that I had a partner who pressed me into seeing my GP and getting the blood test, and seeing a GP who was familiar with my illness.
I had one cycle of intensive chemotherapy in November 2010, which resulted in me suffering a severe septicaemic episode which delayed my transplant due to some underlying cardiac dysfunction. I did recover, and tests were carried out on my siblings to determine if they were able to donate their bone marrow. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, and I was lucky enough to receive an unrelated bone marrow transplant in January 2011 along with reduced intensity chemotherapy and anti-body treatment.
My transplant was a success and there was no significant graft versus host disease. Because of the risk caused by the weakness of my immune system, I spent some considerable time on a special diet, avoiding anyone with the slightest illness and not being able to do many everyday things that I normally could. Over the following year, I did develop some illnesses that required hospitalisation, but nothing life threatening and soon things started to improve. I revisit the Bone Marrow clinic on a 12 monthly basis now, where they still do tests and there has been no further issues.
Originally, I was told that I would probably not work again, but 18 months after my diagnosis I returned to work and although I had a few short bouts of sickness, I completed another three years until my official retirement in 2015.
When I was diagnosed, my consultant said, “Give us one year of your life and we will give you twenty back.” This encouragement helped me through my illness, although I am determined to prove him wrong and make it more than 20 years.
Spot Leukaemia is important in that it can highlight the symptoms people should be looking for and urge them to see their GP as soon as they feel that something is amiss. A lot of my generation do not want to bother their GP with what they consider minor issues. From my experience, cancer does not just strike, and you know straight away that you are seriously ill. It creeps through your body slowly, and unless you get the right help at the right time, you could leave it too late.