“It began when I had some bad bruises (even for me!) that took ages to heal about a month prior to my diagnosis. However, I knew something was seriously wrong when I had a period that was excessively heavy and with fresh blood – which was way out of the norm for me. The period started on a Wednesday night and by Friday afternoon I had spoken to my GP. On Monday, I then went to have my had bloods done.
The GP called me at work in the afternoon to admit me to hospital following my blood results. The consultant haematologist was waiting for me to break the news of what she suspected was wrong. In March 2021, I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML).
My diagnosis came as a complete shock. As a community pharmacist, I had made all sorts of explanations in my head. I had just had my COVID-19 booster and there were murmurings of it messing with your period. Equally, I’d been taking the maximum dose of ibuprofen to deal with the after-effects of the booster, so that is why I had phoned up the GP for a chat.
The consultant who broke my diagnosis to me delivered it with the caveat of, “If I could choose what leukaemia to have, this is the one I’d pick.” Typing that out sounds like it shouldn’t be comfort, but it was. She found out I was a pharmacist and quickly ran through the proposed treatment, explaining it was a gold standard set in the last 10 to 15 years and it was more tolerable than traditional chemotherapy. I was told I would be treated with trans-retinoic acid (tretinoin) and arsenic. I wouldn’t lose my hair or have fertility issues down the line.
The supportive care and tretinoin started right away in the A&E unit of the hospital. By the next evening, I had been transferred to the Beatson in Glasgow and the following morning my bone marrow sample was taken. It confirmed the diagnosis and arsenic was started. I spent six weeks in hospital and received blood products for the first four weeks. I had a few bumps in the road, such as differentiation syndrome in the first two weeks. I had some fluid on my lungs and gained almost a stone in water weight over these two weeks. However, the worse aspect was excruciating bone pain in my hips and legs.
I think one of the most difficult parts of the whole experience is how it impacts family and friends. I think I very quickly was in my mindset of, “I’m strapped in this rollercoaster, and there’s no amount of fighting or struggling that will change this or the outcome. I need to wait for it to slow and stop.” The shock to family and friends was massive. I had gone from working six days a week, completing a prescribing course in the evenings to being extremely unwell and admitted to hospital for a long stay.
I am extremely thankful to have my husband who was my rock in the whole thing. He broke the news to all family and explained my diagnosis extremely well. I think one of the only people I told myself was him and my brother. I really couldn’t face telling anyone else, and to be honest, I probably wasn’t the greatest at breaking sort of news – I have little tact!
This all happened during the last COVID-19 lockdown, so I had no visitors. I was very thankful for my iPad during this time – FaceTime kept me and my family sort of sane.
Consolidation went quite smoothly for me. One interesting aspect I hadn’t realised was how the side effects and toxicity can get worse the longer you have treatment. I started strong, but by cycle four in November I was very unwell with treatment, I had high pressure in my head causing nausea and severe headaches.
I am and have been in complete remission since the second consolidation cycle. I’m still in the monitoring phase and I still get a bone marrow sample taken every three months. I finished treatment three days before my 30th birthday in November – the doctor very kindly cancelled the last infusion that was scheduled to be on my birthday! I returned to work slowly from December onwards and since February I’ve been working three or four days per week.
Leukaemia can happen to anyone, it’s indiscriminate in age sex or fitness level. Early diagnosis can be key, and it’s always worth asking, could this be leukaemia?”
Victoria’s symptoms of leukaemia was:
Are you currently dealing with a similar symptom to Victoria’s? If so, contact your GP and ask for a blood test.
For more information on our Spot Leukaemia campaign, our goal and how to get involved, head over to our official Spot Leukaemia website at www.spotleukaemia.org.uk
Early diagnosis saves lives.donate