Lesley: my story

59-year-old Lesley was looking forward to Christmas when she started experiencing chest pains. It was early December 2021. When a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) followed, she decided to bring her Christmas celebrations forward. Lesley shares her story here…

“The autumn school term had finished and I was looking forward to Christmas. I was a bit tired, but that was quite normal for the end of term, and otherwise I felt fine. Nothing seemed unusual, although in retrospect, I’d had a cold that I’d struggled to throw off for two months…

It was a Monday evening and I was relaxing in front of the TV when I felt a squeezing pain in my chest. I’d had the same about two weeks earlier. It wasn’t really bad and I just waited for it to pass. The next morning I thought I’d better get it checked out, so I phoned the surgery and the doctor advised me to go straight to A&E. 

All the tests were fine until late in the afternoon when I was called in by a haematology registrar. She told me the blood tests had shown there were some abnormal blood cells and a problem with my bone marrow. I needed to go back the next morning for another test. Alarm bells started ringing as my Dad had died suddenly from multiple myeloma many years ago. The next morning at 9am I had a bone marrow biopsy and was told they suspected I might have leukaemia. Two days later, the diagnosis (AML) was confirmed and I was told they needed to act quickly.

Because I was considered fit and “young” (I was 59), they planned to give me four rounds of intensive chemo. I was in shock, but I knew I had to be strong and I was determined to fight it. 

We decided to celebrate Christmas early, just in case I was called in quickly. There were just the three of us: me, my husband and my sister. Mum was in a care home – she had been locked down with a Covid outbreak since the beginning of the month. I recorded some video messages for my sister to share with her over Christmas and the New Year. We had a ‘Christmas day’ the Sunday before, without all the trimmings, but with what we had got so far. We had a simple Christmas dinner, shared some presents and played some games.

The following Tuesday, I went in for my picc line and was admitted the same day, 21st December. Due to Covid, I had to go in on my own, no visitors were allowed, and that was tough. That first afternoon, a volunteer brought round Christmas cards made by a local primary school. It was a nice touch and went on the windowsill, along with my good luck/get well cards. I tried to find some Christmas carols on the radio, but it was all rather surreal.

On 23rd December I started ten days of intensive chemo. I was told my husband could come to visit on Christmas Day, but after the morning chemo was done, I was allowed to go home for four hours. I was very weak and sleepy, and sick at lunchtime, but it was still lovely to be at home!

I should have been out of hospital on New Year’s Eve, but I developed a high temperature and ended up spending another five days in. When I finally came home, I only had three days before developing another fever and had to go back in for a further eleven days. Happily during this stay, my husband was allowed to visit a few times.

After three weeks at home, I was back in for my second round of chemo. My positive outlook was beginning to waver, I was terribly weak, and the treatment was overwhelming. By now my hair was falling out in handfuls. My husband was very strong for me and we battled on. The good news was that the first round of chemo had put me in remission.

Between treatments, I had hospital visits every other day for blood tests. This was tiring and some days were very long if I needed a transfusion. Luckily my husband had been given time off work for as long as necessary.

Round three of chemo was only six days, but after regaining a bit of strength, it was awful going back in, knowing I’d be battered down again. It was four hours of chemo a day, so no easier either. Only a week at home – and I was back in hospital with a high temperature. A fortnight of being very ill and very weak followed. I desperately wanted to get home for Easter and for my 60th birthday. Luckily I did and we were able to celebrate with a night away in a hotel which coincided with some lovely warm weather.

I then spent weeks getting better and building up my strength, dreading the thought of going back in for the fourth round of chemo. My white blood cells and platelets took a very long time to recuperate. 

At the end of June, I was surprised, but delighted, when my consultant told me that I would have no further treatment. My bone marrow wouldn’t take any more chemo, but I was clear of leukaemia. I was finally on the road to recovery.

I restarted teaching in September, just three children’s dance classes, with a student helper. I had to take it easy and was exhausted afterwards, but it was amazing to be back. Progress was very gradual, the tiredness relentless.

Christmas was still just the three of us, Mum having sadly passed away in September.

Now almost two years since diagnosis, I am well, enjoying life, avoiding stress where possible, eating healthily and being relatively active. Still with a positive attitude and with the love and support of my husband, sister and friends, and looking forward to another Christmas!”

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If you or a loved one needs advice or support regarding your diagnosis, please get in touch. You can call our free helpline on 08088 010 444 and speak to one of our nurses. Alternatively, you can send a message to our team via WhatsApp on 07500 068 065 (services available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm).

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