Location: Dublin, Ireland
Diagnosis: Acute Promyelocytic Myeloid Leukemia
I guess I’ll start from the very beginning, before my diagnosis.
I had deferred from university the year before my diagnosis and was due to move to Birmingham in September 2018 to study journalism. At the end of July I had this weird feeling; even though I was super excited it just didn’t feel like the right time for me to move away from all of my family and friends. I had been working in a supermarket and was extremely unhappy there, so I decided to apply for a job in a bank – low and behold, I got it! 3 weeks before I was due to start my new job at the bank, I left my job in the supermarket – I wanted to have the extra time to relax and prepare.
I saw almost everyone important to me in the weeks before I was diagnosed. None of us had any idea what was in store for me just a few weeks later.
I saw family and friends and even booked a spontaneous holiday to Chesterfield to visit more family. Half way through my holiday I was feeling exhausted, but I put that down to travelling, as you would. On the morning of my flight home I noticed quite a few bruises on the backs of my legs, but didn’t think too much of it. Back at home the next morning, I caught a glimpse of them again and decided to count them in the mirror. I had more than 20 bruises on the backs of my legs. I showed my mum, suspecting at this stage that I might be anaemic. She rang the GP – I didn’t realise that she knew this is a sign of Leukemia – and I went for an appointment.
I was sent for blood tests and the phlebotomist very nearly sent me away as I didn’t have an appointment. With a four week waiting list I was lucky she still did them. I wouldn’t be here today if I’d had to wait that long.
I went off about my day afterwards, not thinking much of it, until I got a call from my GP – “Your white blood cell count is off. You have an appointment in the hospital tomorrow morning for a bone marrow biopsy”. Cancer. I knew what it was (thanks to my 16-year-old self for deciding to study Agricultural Science!).
I went in the next morning and had the biopsy. When it was finished my mum asked the doctor what could be wrong and he said he was highly suspicious of something, but couldn’t say for definite until the test results came back the next day. Mum asked what he THOUGHT it was, to which he said he couldn’t say without my permission. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but then realised I was going to find out soon enough, so why prolong it – “I suspect its an extremely rare form of Leukemia called Acute Promyelocytic Myeloid Leukemia”.
Tears, for about 15 seconds until I realised there was literally nothing I could do to change it.
I was transferred to a different hospital as there is only one hospital near me that can treat my type of cancer and I began part of my treatment – ATRA – that night. The next day, I started chemotherapy.
I had no time to undergo IVF to freeze my eggs and I think the possibility of infertility is the thing that hurt me the most about it all, and still does. My hair will come back and I will be cured, but this is an uncertainty that looms over me. But even with that in mind, I feel extremely lucky. If caught early, my type of Leukemia has a really high success rate of being fully cured. Now here I am, 8 months later, after 3 rounds of treatment including: 8 doses of Idarubicin chemotherapy, 4 doses of Mitoxantrone chemotherapy, 1 small dose of Methotrexate chemotherapy for a suspected Leukemia infiltration around the brain (luckily a false alarm), 479 ATRA tablets, too many blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and Neupogen injections to count, an MRI, ultrasounds, CT scans, 2 lumbar punctures, 2 bone marrow biopsies and God knows what else I’m forgetting.
A lot of people expect me to be angry about it all, to be upset it happened and wish it never had, and to some extent I was. But in all honesty, it’s had a really positive impact on my life.
I’ve met some of the most incredible people, it’s helped me to understand the true value of life, I realise the importance of helping others and the importance of accepting help. It’s given me a whole new outlook and that's something I truly believe I wouldn’t have now if this hadn’t happened. When you’re diagnosed with cancer you can break down, get upset, hate the world and honestly, I don’t blame anyone for reacting in this way – it’s how I always imagined I would react if I was faced with this situation. But when faced with it for real, I realised I had no choice when it came to having cancer. I couldn’t change it. I couldn’t say to my doctor “well, y’know what, I don’t want it so change those tests results will you!”. But I did have a choice in how I let it affect me, so I chose to not let it control my emotions and feelings and instead, took control.
I’m looking forward to my life after treatment. I’ve applied for a pre-nursing course and I plan to get back to travelling as soon as I possibly can. All I have left to say is that life is a wonderful thing; a precious thing.
We have one life and you are the only one who can decide how you want to live it. Be brave, take risks, do things that scare you.
Don’t end up in a hospital bed thinking “I wish I had done this or that”, and never let anyone or anything hold you back.
One piece of advice:
Who knows how long any of us have on this earth. Anything can happen any day and to anyone. You just have to work with what you’ve got and never give up the fight. Hold on to hope, even if you’ve only got the tiniest piece left.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Brave Collective. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information.