I had my 28-week pregnancy bloods carried out (a week late) alongside a pregnancy related diabetes glucose test. These were taken on a Monday.
On Tuesday, I had an appointment with my GP about my headaches. She called me about an hour before my appointment to ask if I’d been feeling unwell. I told her that I felt tired, had horrendous headaches along with night sweats and shortness of breath, but nothing out of the ordinary. She told me that my white blood cell count was low but that she’d check me over when I came in.
When I arrived, she explained that she was worried about my results and gave me a check over (eyes, ears, nose, throat etc) and was puzzled that I felt okay. She told me to wait in reception whilst she called a haematologist in our neighbouring city. She also provided me with a sick note for a week as I could no longer cope with the headaches. I am a migraine sufferer, but these were horrendous. She told me that she’d provide it for a week; however, she fully expected me to be off for longer.
Tuesday came around and, as normal, I dropped my little girl off at school and got ready for my appointment. Upon arriving at hospital, the receptionist was waiting for me and took me straight through to the phlebotomists where numerous samples were taken. We then had to wait for the haematologist to take a look. We were sat in the waiting room surrounded by posters for blood cancer and blood disorders, but we weren’t worried. That just happened to other people, right?
The time came for the haematologist to see us. She had someone else in the room with her, a specialist nurse, I think. She started by asking questions about the new baby, our family, our home etc. Small talk. She then said, “I won’t beat about the bush, I’ve looked at your blood samples and you have leukaemia.” We both broke down. She wanted to send us to hospital in London via private ambulance right then. We explained that we’d rather nip home to collect some bits and sort out childcare for our daughter as I’d be in hospital for weeks.
A trip to St Barts in London, countless blood tests and a bone marrow aspiration later, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). I was transferred over to UCLH as they had a neonatal ward and oncology ward all under one roof. The next stage of my journey then began.
I obviously had the added complication of being pregnant. Between the two wards, it was decided that he’d be delivered via caesarean at 32 weeks. I’d then begin chemotherapy. Waiting for three weeks in hospital was awful. Mentally tough as I knew I had blood cancer, but it appeared no one was doing anything – in reality, they wanted to give our baby and I the best possible chances.
James was delivered eight weeks early on 19th April 2017 at a whopping 4.5lbs. He needed a bit of help breathing for the first few days but was otherwise healthy and happy.
I opted to go on the AML-19 trial. I was allocated two rounds of FLAG-IDA (with one dose of the drug Mylotarg). I then got a further two rounds of high dose ARA-C. No stem cell transplant was required as my risk was “intermediate”.
I hit remission after the first round of treatment and ended my chemo in September 2017, returning home the same month. I now have three monthly checks to ensure that there is nothing amiss in my blood results.
I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person I was before diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis changes your outlook on things. To you, for a time, you live and breathe it. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about it and I am genuinely grateful when I get up in the morning.
I returned to work in April. The first time I tried to return, I wasn’t ready and was diagnosed with depression. It was too much too soon. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s almost like my mind needed to catch up and process what had happened. I’m now very conscious of spending time with my children and husband as before I was constantly thinking about work and worrying about stupid things. I still worry about daft things but I’m not as obsessive about them as I used to be.
My husband has just pledged to run 500 miles ending with the London Marathon in 2020, which he is running for Leukaemia Care. We fully support Leukaemia Care’s amazing work, and raising awareness means more people can be lucky like us and get treatment early.