I went back and forth to the GP four times. At the last visit, I was told I had allergies and was given a nasal spray. I was unaware this was actually making me worse as it was widening my blood vessels. I was so ‘grotty’, a woman in the waiting room actually moved away from me.
As my condition worsened, I couldn’t walk up the stairs. I had to crawl, instead. I had a constant whooshing noise in my head and found myself asking people to listen to the space next to me to see if they could hear it too. Needless to say, they couldn’t. I also found myself unable to reach the toilet in time which felt so undignified. My nose streamed with blood. It wouldn’t stop. This began to happen a lot. All in all, I was in a pretty bad way.
"Cancer is a funny thing. For many people it is the beginning of the end. But, for me it was the start of the beginning."
At this point, my mum called an ambulance. Enough was enough. I was taken to the local A&E in Chelmsford, Essex, where I was put in a room with a bed and a kermode. I was given a blood test and found myself drifting in and out of sleep. Being so close to death hadn’t even crossed my mind but I later found out that my blood level was marked as just three. A normal reading is twelve. Doctors pumped me with bags of blood filled with freshly frozen plasma and platelets. All sorts of tests were carried out and I spent the night hooked up to all sorts of machines.
The next day began in much the same vein with blood and plasma top ups. Around lunchtime, a doctor came in. I had never seen her before and I actually never saw her again. She walked in and spoke quickly and abruptly. I can still hear her words now as she told me I had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Before I could process the information, she had gone. It was all a blur and I couldn’t really take it in. I was young, healthy and had just qualified as a teacher, surely this wasn’t really happening? I later found out that the paramedics who took me in were told off for wasting their time on ‘just another dehydration case’.
It turned out that my case was rare. The statistics quoted to me were one in ten thousand. I was told that I would be transferred to St Barts in London when there was room for me. When I got there, I instantly hated it. I remember the horrible blue curtains around the bed. I didn’t want to stay or be left alone and I hated not knowing what was going to happen. I couldn’t see very clearly and my bowels were still upset, neither of which was helping.
I had all sorts of tests and the next day a course of treatment was proposed. They decided to put me on AML Trial 17. This would include several doses of chemotherapy and a cocktail of drugs. The dose, they said, would be determined randomly. I was offered other treatments and was asked to sign all sorts of scary forms. It was overwhelming.
Having finally been diagnosed on 7th March, 2013, I was given my first course of chemotherapy on the 11th April. Then came the fantastic news that I was in remission. I continued my treatment until the 31st July and was finally discharged as an in-patient. That was four years ago and I’ve since been back every few months for routine blood tests.
"I now see the cancer as a gift, a cruel gift but a gift nonetheless that taught me to live my life."
My specialist haematology team were amazing and, no matter how much I hated being in hospital, I will always be grateful to them all as their knowledge and expertise has saved my life. For anyone in a similar position, my advice is to keep saying to yourself it’s all in the name of making me better. I had to remind myself of that a lot.
Cancer is a funny thing. For many people it is the beginning of the end. But, for me it was the start of the beginning. The mental battle I faced in hospital was the hardest part for me. I can still tell you how many tiles were on the ceiling, how many blinds were in the window and how frequently the tap would drip. I used to try and wash myself away in the shower and will myself into a coma so I could wake up when it was all over. I had a lot of time to think when I was ill. I planned my funeral in my head but I also decided how I wanted my life to be different if and when it was all over.
While, my journey had been tough, cancer has taught me to seize moments as they arise and to find the good in every day. No matter how hard you think your life is there are always so many reasons to be happy. Having AML taught me to live and for that I will forever be thankful. One of my favourite memories was leaving the hospital, having spent 36 days in filtered air and isolation, and feeling of the rain against my face. It was a beautiful moment.
My treatment was in part funded by charities and I am hugely admirable of the work they all do and to all of the people who support them. Sadly, others along my journey weren’t as lucky as me, but with continued support and time, these statistics will hopefully change.