The main question people ask me is; how did it all start?
It is a very tricky question to answer. The doctors believe that I might have had leukaemia for up to 8 weeks before I was diagnosed. 8 weeks might not sound long but AML progresses rapidly. It is an aggressive form of leukaemia and to put it simply, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better.
I didn’t have the bruising and bleeding usually associated with leukaemia but looking back now, the first sign of being seriously ill was constantly having infections and colds. As the saying goes, hindsight is a beautiful thing. As any student would, I assumed I could just wait it out and eventually I would get better. I waited 2 or 3 weeks and decided enough was enough. I went to the walk-in clinic, and, after waiting 3 hours for a 3-minute appointment; I was ‘diagnosed’ with viral tonsillitis and sent on my way with nothing but the advice to drink lots of water and wait until it passed.
Then along came the ‘morning sickness’. Yes, morning sickness, and no, I was not pregnant. Each morning my breakfast made a reappearance but I carried on with my day to day life. Needless to say, I did find myself searching things like, ‘can men get mornings sickness?’… After concluding that men cannot get ‘morning sickness’ I passed my symptoms off as a stomach virus.
Sheffield Hallam had two huge water polo matches on the same day in the final week of April 2015. The first was to be promoted to the top league and the second was the annual varsity match between Sheffield Hallam and The University of Sheffield. Despite suffering from bad sickness that morning, my determination and stubborn nature took over. I played and even managed to snatch a couple of goals. However, by the following week I could barely swim a length.
Subsequently, I returned to the doctors at home. Throughout the whole carry-on I tried to keep everything the way it was. Going to the gym everyday and playing water polo 4 times a week. Looking back now, the leukaemia had well and truly taken its hold.
The doctor sent me to Asda for a full blood test, which then led to a second trip. (Who would’ve thought you could get a blood test along with your loaf of bread?!) I went to my girlfriends that evening and within a few hours of having my blood taken my parents were calling me (repeatedly, with no answer… sorry mum and dad) to say that the doctors wanted me to go to the hospital for further tests. At this point I was still completely oblivious to the extent of my illness. Naively, I told myself that maybe they had lost my blood sample.
So, the following day I headed to ward 31 at York hospital. Only later did it occur to me that this ward was for haematology and oncology patients. I had my bloods taken and was home within an hour. What followed was a call from the hospital saying they wanted me to go back and to pack my overnight bag because they weren’t sure how long I was going to be in for.
I cannot remember the order of events exactly, that day was a whirlwind to say the least, but the doctor told my family and I that what had caused my ongoing illness was most probably leukaemia. Typically, it was a bank holiday so I had to wait three days for a bone marrow test to find out for sure. At this point all I knew was that bone marrow tests were bloody painful (excuse the pun). I had no idea what leukaemia was and what it affects. The doctor dealing with me was extremely nice and explained everything clearly to me. He was also very respectful and caring towards my family. For this, I am so grateful.
Then came the bone marrow test… let me tell you now, the one thing you don’t want to hear when you’re having a bone marrow test is “you have very strong bones, the strongest I have had to deal with”. In short, for a bone marrow test the doctor numbs the skin on your hip, uses a bloody big needle to suck out bone marrow cells, and then chips off a sample of bone. My first test (five attempts and both hips later) ended with the doctor leaving the room, hot, stressed and very relieved to have finally got what he needed.
The result confirmed what we all knew. On the 5th May 2015 I was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukaemia).
This experience has taught me not to ignore my body and if I am feeling ill contact the doctors for an appointment. Too many people put off going to the doctors saying “it will be nothing” or “I don’t have the time”. Nothing is more important than your health. The quicker you catch things, the better the outcome. So, in short, listen to your body. Whether you need medical help, more exercise or rest, or more nutrients in your diet. Your body will try and tell you if something’s not right. It is your responsibility to find a solution.