In April 2012 I had a 360 health check. Everything was normal except one of my blood tests results which the doctor on the day told me he was sending away for further analysis. Two days later I was at work at the television shopping channel QVC, preparing to go on air, when I received a phonecall from the doctor. He told me I needed to book an appointment to see a consultant haematologist as a matter of urgency. Four days later I was seen at UCLH. My white blood count was still on the rise so they did a bone marrow biopsy there and then to confirm the registrar's suspicion. Ten days later I met my consultant, Professor Anthony Goldstone, for the first time and he confirmed that I had chronic myeloid leukaemia. I wasn't shocked as I was pretty sure they wouldn't do bone marrow biopsies on a whim. I left the hospital that day armed with my oral chemotherapy drugs, drugs to help my kidneys and a list of emergency phone numbers in case I suffered severe side effects.
I was about to release my first book, a memoir of some of my life stories, called One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, and I added chapter 101, the story of my diagnosis as it was such a huge event in my life story which I didn't think would be right to leave out. The title of the book sparked the idea for a charity swimming gala in July 2013 to raise money for LLR and also for British Polio as I am a polio survivor. I had also had another idea around this time, to write a novel featuring a character with CML and to donate a percentage of my profits to LLR. Not only had they been very supportive for me but also a friend of mine from QVC. Stretch had AML and had been given the all clear following a transplant but it came back. If we were both at UCLH on the same days I would go and visit him. We lost Stretch in October 2013 a devastating blow for his girlfriend, family and me personally.
I continued on my special dosage of Imatinib and every bcr/abl test result continued in a downward direction but after almost three years I still hadn't reached complete molecular response. My professor suggested increasing the dosage to see if we could go the extra mile and achieve a row of zeros. Ten days after my latest bcr/abl I received another phone call at QVC just before I was on live TV. The increased dosage had worked, I had achieved a complete molecular response almost three years to the day after finding out I had CML. Funnily enough I was more emotional over that news than the original diagnosis. I know it is only the beginning of a new challenge to stay in remission and of course I am still taking the drugs but it is an incredible feeling and I am blessed to have had so much support from family, friends and so many QVC viewers.
The novel I started two years ago is finally ready for publication and I warn you now that the character with CML, Rosemary, is not as fortunate in her fight with the disease as me. I have dedicated 'Life's a Beach and Then...' to the memory of my friend Stretch.