As all of you who read my blog regularly know, my book 'One Hundred Lengths of the Pool' comes out on Monday, but there is an additional chapter, One Hundred and One, that I was not expecting to write, and that is the chapter I need to tell you about today.
Throughout the time I had been writing my book, I had also been working full time at QVC and I must confess that at times I felt overwhelmingly tired. Maybe that's why I decided that it would be sensible to have a comprehensive health check. I had been working hard and I was approaching fifty-five… I looked on it as a kind of MOT for the body.
Everything on the day was fine with the exception of one of the blood tests, which had to be sent away for further analysis, which I was assured was fairly routine. However, two days later, I received a phone call from the doctor, as I was preparing to go 'on air' at QVC, recommending that I see a Consultant Haematologist as soon as possible as I had a very high white blood count, WBC. That was on the Thursday evening and the following Monday I was at University College Hospital in central London.
The registrar started by asking me if I had been feeling unwell and I said no, just very fatigued. He checked my neck, under my arms and my groin for swollen lymph glands, and my abdomen just under my ribcage, which I later learnt was to see if my spleen was enlarged.
He was then very direct with me. "Are you a person who likes to know everything up front, or would you prefer to wait until we have got all the test results back?" he asked. "I am definitely the former," I replied. That was when he told me that the blood test that day showed an even higher WBC of 42.8 and that it was probable that I had chronic myeloid leukaemia, known as CML.
To confirm his suspicions, he said that I would need to have a bone marrow biopsy, which he would prefer me to have done immediately in order not to delay the diagnosis any longer than necessary, and so begin treatment as soon as possible. I agreed to have the biopsy done straight away and then emailed QVC to say that I would not be available for my shift that evening.
Ten days later the diagnosis was confirmed, I have chronic myeloid leukaemia. It is quite a rare type of blood cancer with only around six hundred cases a year in the UK and currently it is not curable without a bone marrow transplant, but it can be controlled with targeted chemotherapy drugs. For the first three months the only people who knew were my family, who have been magnificent in their love and support for me, and my immediate boss at QVC, Mike, without whose kindness and consideration regarding shift patterns I could not have continued to work.
I wanted to be able to work, even though I was incredibly tired and suffering some unpleasant side effects from the drugs, to keep a modicum of normality in my life as the shock of the diagnosis and the fact that I would now be on long term medication, potentially for the rest of my life, really sank in. It is so alien for me to take any kind of tablets, even headache pills, and yet without the drugs I now have to take I would not survive, so it has had to become an accepted part of my life.
As you can imagine it is very difficult for me to share this bad news with you all as I didn't want to upset you and I don't want you to worry. I needed to be sure that the chemotherapy drugs that I have been on since my diagnosis were doing their job to bring the CML under control.
I had a set back in October when the results of one of my regular blood tests revealed that I wasn't progressing as well as hoped. I had an anxious couple of weeks waiting for test results to determine whether I had become resistant to the medication or whether the dosage needed to be increased. Fortunately it was the latter and the drugs are currently working well. The latest visit with my Professor was encouraging.
I promise I will keep you up to date with my progress from now on and I hope you will understand my reasons for not telling you sooner and why I am telling you now. I didn't want you to just read about it in chapter 101… it didn't seem right.
Talking of the book, I can now reveal that the latest winner of my competition is Alana Hughes from Preston – congrats! And there's still the chance to win a personalised signed copy in our final competition. As its first airing will be in the Morning Show on Monday. as part of our 'Mothers and Daughters' event, I thought this would be an appropriate question: What is my daughter's name?
To enter, email your answer with your full name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight on Sunday (3rd March). We won't be able to publish any answers that get posted here or they will give the answer away! I will reveal the winner my blog next week.
Read the full terms and conditions here