Tony was a fit and healthy 41 year old when his workouts got harder as he became more breathless and fatigued. After requesting a blood test from the GP and various tests at the hospital, he was finally diagnosed with hairy cell leukaemia (HCL), or what his consultant called “the best cancer to have.” Here, he shares his Spot Leukaemia story…
“It started out with a day like any other; I got up early for a workout and then I went to work. However, as each day passed, I was getting more and more out of breath and tired. I was moving slower, but I just put it down to being tired. When I got home and rested, I felt fine, but I wasn’t being honest with myself. I was convinced that if I could do my usual 300 push-ups, then how could anything be wrong? How wrong was I…
After over a week of it not getting better, I thought it was time to go and see my GP for a blood test. After my test, I was feeling fine but whilst cooking a late evening dinner, the phone rang. That’s when everything changed. The GP had rung and told me to go immediately to the hospital and he would inform them I was on my way.
I got to the Medway Hospital, which is always busy at the best of times (which of course can’t be helped). I arrived at 7 pm and wasn’t seen until 3 am. I had x-rays and more blood tests. I felt anxious and tired; there was a lot going on and there were doctors rushing around everywhere, I had never seen it so busy! I was moved from various departments with still no clue as to what was going on until I reached the cancer ward. However, not even then was I told what was happening. I had a bone marrow test and went back to the waiting room in the haematology ward. By this point, it was late near 8 pm, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours and I still had no clue as to what was going on.
I was tired and hungry, and I just wanted to know what was happening. A nurse came in and asked if I was Tony Pullen and told me I had cancer. My response (to no surprise) was, “What the f***!” and I was told by the nurse that if I spoke like that again I would be removed from the hospital. I apologised by saying, “I’m sorry, I have just been told I could die,” and then off she went. As you can imagine, I was in bits. It’s nothing like what they show you on TV, sitting down with Macmillian nurses and the rest of it.
After crying for a period, which felt like a lifetime, I spoke to my partner and family who were all there to support me. I had my first blood transfusion and went home to deal with what had been said. I was asking myself, “What do I do now?” as I was left with no guidance.
I had an appointment with my consultant who was a lovely lady and Macmillan was there to help in any way they could. I was told I had hairy cell leukaemia (HCL). Apparently, this was the best cancer to have, which was a huge shock as I didn’t think there was such a thing as a good cancer to have. I am always a high-spirited person and I make a light heart out of anything, but today I wasn’t smiling.
I had five days of chemotherapy injections. On one of the days going for my jab, I was feeling tired and worn out. I wasn’t thinking straight, but I remember being checked over by a member of staff before going to the waiting area for my next shot of chemotherapy. I collapsed in my chair and people thought I had died. I can’t imagine how it made my partner and sister feel, as they were there to see this. Unfortunately, I had gotten septicaemia and was admitted to hospital for 14 days.
However, when I was discharged, I had to come back two days later as I was in pain throwing up blood. I caught septicaemia again and spent another 10 days in the hospital’s cancer ward. The staff there have nothing but my utmost respect and admiration for what they do. They keep everyone’s spirit up by being positive all of the time; they are absolutely amazing and true heroes.
It's a strange thing to be told you have a cancer that cannot be cured, but that you can have a normal life apart from when it comes back, and you have to go through hell again. All you can do is stay strong and never give up. I am now in remission and have been since December 2019. I have a blood test every eight months; each time is a blessing for each year I get by, but they are also a reminder that my time could be coming soon when you are given a 10-year window of it happening again.
I do what I can by keeping positive, keeping calm, helping others and raising money for all types of cancer. I show my son that we can never give up, training everyday and proving that you can keep going. It’s not easy going through cancer, for both you and your family and friends. It does more than break your heart, but we must never lose faith in ourselves. We must keep strong. Spot Leukaemia helps others with different types of blood cancer to connect with others who have the same illness. Someone else’s story can be an inspiration to never give up.”
Tony’s symptoms of leukaemia were: • Breathlessness
Are you currently dealing with similar symptoms to Tony’s? If so, contact your GP and ask for a blood test.
Early diagnosis saves lives.