Peter W
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Looking back at my battle with leukaemia

Peter W
Posted by
15 Jan 2016

I left school in May 1980 and after a few weeks I managed to find a job working in an office in London. Life seemed great: no more school, earning money, although I wasn't too keen about my daily commute on the tube.

Symptoms & diagnosis

I was a healthy young man and had never experienced any health problems whilst at school, so you can imagine why I was a bit concerned when I started to come home from work more exhausted than usual. After a while, I noticed that my gums were bleeding very easily, often after eating something as simple as an apple, and red spots had started to appear on my legs.

When I visited the GP with mum, he dismissed my symptoms and told me that I had a gum condition, so should visit the dentist. After being sent back and forth between the two, my dentist finally demanded that the GP send me for a blood test. That same evening, I was admitted to Oldchurch hospital in Romford where I was surrounded by a crowd of doctors checking up on me.


The next morning I was transferred by ambulance to St Barts Hospital in London. At this point, I was still unaware of what was wrong with me. I just thought that I was a bit anaemic and would be sent home within a couple of days. Mum travelled with me in the ambulance into London which was what made me think, 'what's actually wrong with me?'

When the door to the ward opened, all I could see were rows upon rows of bald patients - I thought they'd made a mistake and brought me to the geriatric ward instead.

Over the course of the next few days, I had a lot of blood taken to be tested, and so many doctors coming to check up on me.

One day, a tall doctor presented himself and told me he was going to carry out a bone marrow test which I'd never heard of before. He then pulled a test tube and the biggest needle I've ever seen in my life out of his jacket, which he said was going to be inserted into my chest. I can't repeat what I said to him in response, but mum told me off and I apologised. That day I had two of those needles stuck into me: one in the chest and the other in the hip.

By now it was June. After days of tests and check-ups, I was finally allowed out of my room and sat down to watch the Moscow Olympics on the TV. I vividly remember watching Seb Coe's race, when I got talking to a patient called Simon who told me he was being treated for leukaemia. All I remember thinking was that he had no chance of getting over something like that.

Soon after my meeting with Simon, the doctor told me that I too had leukaemia (Acute promyelocytic leukaemia to be precise). I was devastated. I just couldn't believe that this was happening to me. I was still only 15.


My chemo started straightaway. All I can recall about my first session was the severe sickness. The first round of treatment was very harsh - I stayed in hospital for about six weeks to see it through before I was let out the day before my sixteenth birthday in August.

I was treated as an out-patient for the next five rounds of treatment. Thankfully I went into remission immediately after my first round of chemo. Apart from the odd injection, I'd never received so much medical attention in my life.

Remission & recovery

My chemo finished in late December, and in January 1981 I was finally discharged from Barts. Over the next six months, it felt like I could never get away from the hospital, with routine injections, check-ups and so on. My follow-up appointments then became fortnightly, before being reduced to once a month for the next five to six years. By the mid-90s they finally became yearly appointments.

I remained an out-patient at Barts until 2010 when the two doctors who originally treated me, Professor Lister and Professor Rohatiner, retired. I discharged myself after attending both of their retirement parties.

These two doctors have remained dear to my heart, and I still remain in contact with them even today.

When my treatment stopped in 1981 life got back to normal. I was the average 17 year old out in the big wide world.

In 1986 I met my future wife, and after a short courtship (of 8 years), we were married in 1994. In December 1996 our first child Megan was born, followed by Lauren in 1998 and Hannah in 2001. My eldest has just started university, and the other two are working hard towards their A Levels and GCSEs.



What a fantastic blog Peter!

It's great to hear that you're doing well so long after all your treatment. We've come a long way in the treatment of blood cancer since all your chemo but it is incredibly reassuring for others to read stories from others who've been in long-term remission for many years as it provides others with hope for the future.

Have a great weekend and all the best going forwards.