Emma B
Posted by

I never contemplated cancer, but does anyone?

Emma B
Posted by
09 Jul 2016

How it felt during those initial moments when the doctor says you have blood cancer and the symptoms that are so obvious now but that were brushed off as something trivial beforehand.

It was 5 October 2015, my GP practice called to say there were abnormalities in my blood and I had to pack a bag and go to the hospital as soon as possible.  The caller didn’t have any further detail but gave me the ward number and the doctors name that I had to see.  As I put down the phone I was shaking.  I'd been for blood tests earlier that day, but had expected they would be clear, I didn’t know where I was going and what I was going to find out, but I knew this must be serious. Me and my partner, Nathan, prepared some things and headed straight there.


About an hour later, we sat in an Intrathecal treatment room, where a doctor with kind eyes that could see into your soul, told me that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).  She apologised for being so direct but how else can you tell someone and I appreciated her honesty.  As a 35 year old who eats well, is active and never smoked, I had never contemplated cancer, then again does anyone?


I don’t remember all of my thoughts as I digested what the doctor was telling me. I do remember thinking, I know nothing about ALL, except it’s a blood cancer and I know children who have it ... I thought of my dad, who we’d lost to metastatic ocular melanoma two years ago ... I thought about my mam and how on earth I was going to break the news to her when she was still fragile with grief ... I thought about Nathan, how would he feel about this .... What would it mean for him, it was going to be hard, what if his feelings towards me changed? … I thought about work, will I still have to work, will I get paid? … What if I can't handle this? ... I thought, I wonder what intrathecal means...


The doctor explained that ALL was treatable and success rates were good.  She gave me a lot more information but in my current state of mind, I found it difficult to take it all in.  I had further blood tests done and she asked if I was pregnant and I replied that it wasn't impossible.  I told her that Nathan and I were planning to start a family and she explained the negative impact the treatment could have on fertility.  I was devastated at first, as was Nathan, but we decided over the coming days that getting me better had to be the priority and children would be something we'd think about afterwards.


After the tests, the doctor left us alone for a bit, both of us with tears in our eyes.  Nathan immediately said all of the right things to comfort me and assure me that this wasn’t just my fight, it was ours and it really gave me the courage that I’d been trying to find in those last 15 minutes.  You don't know how you're going to feel when you get a cancer diagnosis, I don't think anyone can know until it happens.  I'm not sure at what point it happened but I thought to myself, I have this disease, there isn't anything I can do to change that, I need to just accept it and get fighting.  It hasn't been easy but this is still the way I feel today.


Up until September, 2015 had been a pretty good year, I’d spent a lot of 2014 experiencing ‘firsts’ since losing my dad.  I hadn’t just lost my dad, my hero, a girl’s first love, but I’d also lost my mentor.  I’d lost a lot of my drive in the process and there were areas of my life where I was just going through the motions, like a clock just ticking by day by day.  At the start of 2015, I decided I needed to stretch myself more at work, take on new projects and really show what I was capable of. It felt so good to take control and challenge myself again, giving me a confidence boost in the process.  


In the meantime, I was happy in my home life, home was my solace, my safe place.   Nathan and I were happy and looking forward to the prospect of starting a family and what changes this next chapter would bring.


It was mid-August at a wedding that I had the first sign that something wasn’t quite right.  The wedding was fantastic and I was having a lovely time, when I started to get a headache at the back of my head.  This was strange to me because I rarely get headaches, nevermind at the back of my head.  I decided it must be dehydration or poor posture from long days at my desk without a break.


I went to my GP at this point but there wasn’t really anything he could do from the symptoms I described, he agreed that it was probably due to my posture and long hours and I needed to take painkillers and see a physiotherapist.


Even with physiotherapy the headaches didn’t go away and the headaches were soon replaced with pain and stiffness in my shoulders.  These were the main symptoms that I took notice of, but there were some symptoms that I didn’t pay attention to:


~ Sweats

I was a keen runner, and there were some nights when I came home from a run, had a shower and then up to an hour later, my shirt would be soaking wet.  This sweating also happened on some hot days at work, but with the floor to ceiling windows, making the office feel like a greenhouse, I didn’t think too much of it.


~ Fatigue / blood flow

During my runs, I seemed to tire easily and regularly ended up with cramp in my calves, like they weren’t getting enough oxygen, I just put this down to not taking enough water or food before a run.  This was particularly evident when I did the Great North Run.  Prior to the run, I was confident I would beat my time from last year because I had done so much more training.  However, this turned out to be the hardest run of my life.  With the heat and my body just not playing ball, I was ready to hand in my number and get a ‘DNF’ at 8 miles!  It took a lot of determination to finish that race and I ended up with a time of just under 3 hours, 20 mins later than last year!


~ Strange bruising / fever & shivers

I was in Rome in late September and I struggled with the physical demands of sightseeing and felt feverish / shivery after a long day of walking about.  I also got two bruises which weren’t particularly large in size, but their makeup was different to what I was used to, with little dark purple specks inside.  My theory of stress at work (due to taking on a lot of new opportunities) was starting to waiver because I was on holiday with no pressure, except deciding where to eat next and whether to have one glass of wine or two, I knew I needed to get back to the GP.

I phoned in sick at work for the first time in 5 years. I don't actually remember what I told the GP because some things only became clear in hindsight, but from what he heard, he sent me for blood tests.  This was on the Thursday and my blood tests were on the Monday morning.  On the Monday morning, I was given the stickers for the blood vials and there were 6 of them.  This was the first time I thought, ‘there could be something quite serious wrong with me’. Little did I know what lay ahead..



Two thoughts: When people ask how you are, the answer is 'Not quite as good as tomorrow, but a bit better than yesterday'; And all over the world, you have more friends than you ever dreamed of. People you've never met - like me - are sending you positive thoughts and good wishes. We've been there too.


Hi, your story is so similar to mine accept I had AML. Everything you say sounds so familiar.  It's certainly tough and at times I found it too hard to cope but I got through with my husband, friends and family by my side. Finished my treatment in sept and am feeling ok considering what my body has been through. Sending you my best wishes and feel free to get in touch if you'd like some support...Anna (my blog annasbloodcancer.blogspot.com)


Emma, there are two kinds of people....those who think every symptom points to cancer, and those who excuse every symptom when they do have cancer. I thought my symptoms (palpitations, sweating)were due to a bad menopause, not HL. Anyway, all is good now, as I hope it is for you. Best wishes x



Thanks Anna, I've only just seen this now. I'll definitely have a look at your blog, it's great to get in touch with people who've had similar experiences, Emma x


Wise words Andrew, thank you!  And all the best to you :)


Thanks Louise, glad to hear it.  I'm making good progress through my treatment so I'm happy with that.  It's been quite theraputic to revisit the key moments in my journey now that I'm 9 months down the line, it's like I've learned a lot in that time! xx