My journey started on 27th November 2019, just a few months after I turned 30. All of a sudden I almost fainted a couple of times while working. At first, I blamed the fact I didn’t have enough breakfast that day, but it seemed very weird. Even after lunch I kept feeling very weak and dizzy while standing so I went home to rest and I noticed something else was wrong: big bruises in unusual places and more and more were appearing as the time went by. At first I thought I might have hurt something and simply couldn’t remember it but then a flashing memory of something I saw on Facebook: a friend of mine, Claire Shepherd, who had leukaemia in the past year, had been posting her symptoms during the Spot Leukaemia 2019 campaign and mine looked similar! That opened my eyes and made me wonder: could it be something as serious? My first thoughts were: could I have leukaemia as she did? What are the odds of two friends getting the same big thing only a few months apart? “Impossible,” I kept saying to myself. I had felt absolutely fine the day before and I had been generally very healthy—playing squash, playing volleyball, dancing in a club back home in Italy where I was just the weekend before. But what if?
The doubt was taunting me so I did what I would have not usually done: google the symptoms. I studied pharmacy at university and I am a scientist, so I was looking for a reliable source before panicking, but there it was, the NHS website appearing first in my search. My symptoms could actually be leukaemia! That “impossible” became a “likely”. I decided I would go to the GP the morning after; I often don’t go to the GP for small things but the thought it could have been something so serious was really scary.
The morning after, I went to the GP hoping they were going to say I had nothing to worry about. However, the doctor realised something wasn’t totally right. Since I had had a lot of vaccinations in the previous weeks for a planned journey to Brazil in December, she wasn’t sure if it was just a side effect of them and decided to investigate further. She was particularly concerned about the bruises as they were indeed in a strange position. Thankfully, she decided to get a blood test done and some of the results came back in the night when I got a call from the hospital asking me to go the day after for further examinations, because I appeared to be very anaemic.
The morning of Friday 29th November, Black Friday, I went to the hospital to get more blood tests and it was clear to the clinician something was off with my blood values. The big question was what was the cause of it, and from the current results they couldn’t tell. I was sent home and asked to monitor the situation over the weekend and to call if anything changed. I just had the time to reach home when I received a call from the doctors: some further results had arrived, and they asked me to go back ASAP and to be ready to spend the night there. As soon as I heard this, I knew a big storm was about to come.
When I arrived at the hospital the doctor explained to me that my symptoms could be correlated to acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) and I needed to start treatment immediately, even before being totally sure of the diagnosis, because APL, due to abnormal bleeding and clotting, is very life-threatening in the first stages if not treated. The confirmation of an APL diagnosis only came the week after but luckily they had started drug administration as soon as I arrived in the hospital. The doctor was genuinely impressed by the fact I had checked my symptoms so soon as this might have actually saved my life. And there it was, the ice-cold shower nobody would ever want to have, that “impossible” turning into a reality. Black Friday 2019, a day I will never forget.
After the initial shock, the rollercoaster of emotions started as well as the fear of the impact this could have on myself and the people around me. Starting with my boyfriend who was travelling from London on the same day to visit me—I called him while he was on the train and he later told me his five-hour journey was the worst of his life. I called my parents straightaway to let them know everything and they arranged to fly over from Italy the morning after. They were already aware something was serious when I went to the GP to check. They know I generally don’t go to the doctor, so if I was going straightaway something must have been off. They were extremely shocked as they saw me when I visited home just a few days before and all looked normal. My Grandma still can’t understand how I was eating so eagerly and healthily on a Saturday and then getting diagnosed with leukaemia not even a week after! The bombshell came also for all my friends, close and afar, as I had to tell them the terrible news. It was an extremely challenging period but knowing I could count on the support of my family, partner, friends, colleagues and NHS staff really made a difference in the way I faced it and I am extremely grateful for that!
There is no good time to have leukaemia, but my timing was very strange; I started feeling sick the same day I got a contract for a new job—good news and awful news on the same day. Suddenly all the plans I had for my future had to be put on pause, not knowing when and if I could press the play button again. I still can’t believe how my life turned in 48 hours, but I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if I didn’t investigate it further straightaway.
I am in remission and finished my last consolidation cycle this August. Despite the fact that these nine months have been very tough and full of ups and downs (surely an ongoing pandemic didn’t help), I consider myself lucky for many reasons. And the first of all is because I checked my symptoms straightaway allowing me to get diagnosed in 48 hours from the very first symptom. Starting the treatment so early saved my life and also meant it was milder and shorter, rather than harsh and long chemotherapy cycles. A big part of this has been down to my friend Claire and the posts she shared for Spot Leukaemia a few months earlier. Her posts really made me realise leukaemia can happen to anyone, even young people like us, but we can spot it early if we are aware of the common symptoms. So, for this a very big thank you to all of Leukaemia Care for making Spot Leukaemia so impactful.