Leah Arora

Leah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at the age of 22, but only after she made multiple visits to her GP, and an admittance from a haematologist that she was only given a blood test after crying during her appointment. Here, Leah recounts her experiences.

I first had the flu and an infection in my leg (cellulitis), which I went to the GP for and took a course of antibiotics. I was then having extremely painful stomach pain at night for the first week. The pain would last for a few hours and keep me up at night in agony. It then progressed to instant pain in the same place as soon as I swallowed a mouthful of food. This happened till the point of diagnosis. I was also fatigued and breathless.

I went back to the GP after a week or two and she prescribed me omeprazole for acid reflux. I said I didn’t think this was acid reflux but something worse, but she reassured me that this is very common and the pain should go away after two weeks.

I continued with the medication but saw no improvement, so I went back to the doctor and she referred me to have an ultrasound because she suspected I had gallstones. Again, I told her ‘I don’t have a fatty diet, I am quite young, I don’t think that is the case’, but she said it is very common in women. I went for the ultrasound, where they also took bloods from me.

Two weeks later the GP called me and said she was referring me to the haematologist because I had a high inflammation rate and low platelets. She said she was referring me on the urgent waitlist which was only for cancer patients, and she said, “I’m doing this because I don’t think you’ll last that long otherwise” and laughed.

Two weeks later, I saw the haematologist and she told me I had been referred to the wrong department, I should have been referred to the gastroenterologist and she didn’t know what she could do for me. I began to cry and she then said she would take some more bloods. The next day she called me to ask me to go back to the hospital the following day and that’s when I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

The haematologist who diagnosed me said to me that it was really lucky I had cried during our consultation because otherwise she wouldn’t have requested I get bloods and would have referred me to another department.

I was in my final year of my Pharmacy Masters when I had to drop out of university and start treatment. I was seven weeks from taking my exams. I moved into hospital the same day I was diagnosed, which was the most shocking time of my life; I felt like I had no time to adjust to what happened. The first round of chemotherapy was 31 days where I stayed in my room at UCLH. I had four rounds in total which lasted six months.

A lot of children would look at me funny and I would hear them ask their parents why I didn’t have any hair.

I am now in remission and I continue to have bone marrow biopsies every eight weeks for monitoring.

It is vital people know the signs because the flu-like symptoms and infections do not typically lead you to think of leukaemia. People need to be made more aware, including the healthcare professionals, that leukaemia can strike anyone at any time. Early diagnosis is always best, and it can mean preserving the person’s future in terms of their fertility. As I was diagnosed so late, I had to begin treatment instantly and so I did not have the option to freeze my eggs, but had I needed a stem cell transplant, I would now be infertile. That is something that would have had such a huge impact on my life and so the Spot Leukaemia campaign can help to prevent late diagnosis and get people talking about leukaemia.

Wellbeing

The physical and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment can be very difficult to cope with. Some people find that using complementary therapies alongside conventional treatment can help them to manage their stress and anxiety before, during and after treatment.

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