After returning to work from maternity leave, Eilidh-Ann couldn’t shake the fatigue she was experiencing and began finding unexplained bruising. She was whisked off to the hospital, where she received her acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML) diagnosis in 2018, at the age of 34. Here, she shares her Spot Leukaemia story…
“In May 2018, I returned to work from maternity leave as a shift worker but began to feel extremely tired; I could barely get out of the shower in the morning. Looking back, something was definitely wrong, but at the time I shook it off as working mum tiredness. Within a few days of that, I began to get huge, black bruises across my entire stomach, chest, and sides of my legs. These bruises seemed to get even more black rather than getting better, so I made an appointment with my GP.
My GP immediately suspected a blood disorder, initially believing it could be immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). He took bloods and told me to pack a bag for the local hospital, where I would stay overnight for a transfusion. I went home and packed up a bag and picked up our 18-month-old daughter from nursery in between times. When the GP called an hour or so later, he told me my platelets were sitting at a six and the plan continued.
I headed to the hospital with enough clothes for one night. I got my wrist band to be admitted and waited in A&E to be taken to the ward. A second blood test was done, and a short time later a doctor took my husband and I into a side room and told me I had leukaemia. An ambulance had been arranged and was waiting outside to take me straight to Beatson Hospital in Glasgow, 100 miles away.
I was in shock; I cried and hugged my husband. I didn’t know what to say. I got into the ambulance and drove past where our house was with the blue lights on, not knowing when or if I’d see my daughter again.
When I got to the hospital, the ambulance drivers took me straight to the ward and to my hospital room. I was immediately followed in by a consultant, who explained that whilst I had been travelling, she had been looking at my blood film under a microscope. She was specifically able to diagnose my cancer as acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML).
She was very reassuring and told me it was highly treatable and wanted to start the androgen receptor targeted agent (ARTA) treatment that very evening and that I would have chemotherapy in the following days. It was the worst day of my life. My husband arrived at the hospital a short time later after going home to pack a bag and arrange childcare for our daughter. I was in shock. That night, I saw the other women in the ward who had lost their hair through treatment, and it just further added to the disbelief of my situation. I don’t think I slept at all that night.
The following day I met another consultant who nailed down the treatment plan. I had all the tests imaginable and signed so much paperwork, all of which detailed the chemotherapy which was to be administered.
I had my induction chemotherapy for the next few days – bright red idarubicin. In the beginning, I felt great, incredible actually, since I was being pumped full of steroids. I ate so much food and got to know the staff and patients, finding my sanctuary in the patient wellbeing centre which was luckily on my floor. I also managed to get a hold of the hospital Wi-Fi from a friend, and I’m eternally grateful for that!
However, things went downhill when the chemotherapy really hit. I got a horrible infection with a temperature of 40.2 degrees and in high acuity. Just prior to that, I’d had my head shaved as my hair had died and fallen out. I thought I wouldn’t be bothered about it, but when it happened, I couldn’t look in the mirror. After three days bedridden, I was able to go for a wash and the incredible nurses taped a bin bag to the bathroom mirror, so I didn’t have to look at myself.
Week four in hospital and I made it back to my own ward; I still had a grumbling temperature, and I was now looking like all the other women I’d seen when I first arrived. Despite this, I surprisingly felt good. I found my mojo and looked in the mirror. I rocked it. I also found my control measure in trying different styles of turban and head scarf. It was like choosing a new hairstyle every day and it was MY CHOICE, not cancer’s choice what I put on. With lipstick and a shower, the staff would laugh at me getting ready to hit the wellbeing centre every day, where I would hide until my next blood pressure check. The wind had been totally knocked out of my sails, but I was on the way back!
My body’s immune system restarted and after a full month in the hospital, I was allowed home. My mother-in-law made a fabulous roast dinner for my arrival home – I told her it was delicious, but I couldn’t taste a thing! The chemotherapy had stripped my mouth and I had the worst case of mouth ulcers the staff had ever seen. I had mashed my food into a puree to eat in the ward and had to use a baby toothbrush to brush my teeth because I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough for a normal one. Chemotherapy doesn’t just target the cancer. It does not discriminate; it attacks anything fast grown in the body. That’s why you get a sore mouth, bad nails and why your hair falls out.
I went back for round two of chemotherapy and the second I walked in, the ward pharmacist grabbed me and couldn’t contain himself. My bone marrow biopsy showed completely clear! No cancer here! I didn’t get away that easily though, as I continued to have three more rounds of chemotherapy in quick succession, in and out of hospital as required – the ‘new normal’.
After treatment had finished, I instantly retreated for a family holiday, despite still requiring a visit to the hospital for a blood check. Blood tests then became further and further apart and in July 2022, I had my six-month first check-in, which was a huge milestone.
My bloods aren’t a hair out of place, and I intend on keeping it that way. I eradicated all other outer signs that cancer had been in my body; I sorted my chemo-skin, I grew my hair and went to all the physio I could get. I still have sore joints, pelvis and a niggly ankle, but I’ll take that.
I’ll never be able to thank the support of my family, friends, and all the NHS staff enough. And to our daughter, for being a superstar throughout.
It is important for people to know the signs and symptoms of leukaemia. If you feel fatigued in any way, spot unusual bruises or find yourself unable to move out of the shower in the morning, then go to the GP. You could be like me and on chemotherapy medication in four hours flat – save your own life or save someone else’s and give blood!”
Eilidh-Ann’s symptoms of leukaemia were:
Are you currently experiencing similar symptoms to Eilidh’s? If so, contact your GP and ask for a blood test.
Early diagnosis saves lives.