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I put my symptoms down to being pregnant, but it was actually blood cancer

15th Sep 2021

Jemma, and many of her healthcare professionals, put her symptoms down to the side effects of being pregnant or giving birth for far too long. After a long road to getting a diagnosis, Jemma is finally receiving the treatment she needs.

A woman - Jemma - shares a moment with two men. They all wear purple Blood Cancer UK T shirts.

At 24-years-old, I was a newly graduated, married, and soon-to-be mother. You could say my life was pretty normal, with some ups and downs – but mostly, very much on an up!

A year later, and I’m a first-time mum at 25 years old – working full time, and without knowing at the time, soon-to-be cancer survivor.

I now know all about chemotherapy, PICC lines and understand more biology than I ever did at school.

Will life ever be 'normal' again?

Room 1 is to be my temporary second home, as I’ll have follow up appointments for the next five years.

In all honesty, I’m not sure my life will ever go back to ‘normal’ again. Even in the future, I may always worry about the cancer returning.

A woman poses with a book titled "All My Chemotherapy"

The reason I’m telling you my story is because it shows how much work and research into blood cancer is still needed and why charities like Blood Cancer UK are so very important.

My story goes back to November 2019, when I was only eight weeks into my pregnancy. At this early stage, I developed pain in my right hip.

After suffering for a couple of months, I took myself down to the doctors where they referred me to the physiotherapy department in my local hospital. For the remainder of my pregnancy, I was treated for pelvic girdle and sciatica.

Fast forward five or so months…

My quick and somewhat traumatic labour meant I had lost a lot of blood. However, due to this being at the peak of the Covid pandemic, there was very limited follow up post-birth.

There were also no antenatal classes or parent support groups running, which meant my husband and I struggled and resulted in my husband being treated for post-natal depression.

At the same time, my physiotherapy consultations were still ongoing, but face-to-face appointments were sporadic, and the physiotherapists were stumped as to why my symptoms had continued. They were also confused as to how the ‘sciatica’ was unaffected by stretches, exercise or rest. I was in agony!

Little did we know that this was the just beginning of an unimaginably challenging year to follow.

In February 2021, a year and three months after my symptoms began, I finally had an X-ray. I was then referred for a non-urgent CT scan, which I was told took a long time to process.

By mid-March 2021, my health took a dramatic dive

I was tired to the point where it felt like I was under the weight of a thousand bricks. Each day became a massive struggle.

When I woke up each morning, my eyes would feel like I’d gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.

My weight was also dropping, but typically, as a new mother, I was dieting and happy with dropping a few pounds. I put the tiredness down to the fact that my beautiful baby girl wouldn’t let me sleep.

No alarm bells were ringing…

I did however go to the doctors again in the hope of getting better pain medication for my hip. At its worst, I needed to walk with a cane. They were shocked that I was still suffering, and so, as a precaution, they sent me for a blood test. The first alarm bell rang.

I was severely anaemic and other blood counts weren’t looking healthy. My doctor got in touch with the radiology department and asked them to upgrade my CT scan request to urgent. However, five days later, I ended up in hospital with abdominal pain.

A woman - Jemma - shares a moment with two men. They all wear purple Blood Cancer UK T shirts.

They were worried it was appendicitis, and so after months of waiting, I was finally admitted to the hospital for a CT scan. After four days in hospital, I met with an oncologist and nurse, where for the first time, I was told I might have a type of blood cancer.

However, to be sure, I needed to have two biopsies and a PET scan. This would give a better understanding of my diagnosis and potential treatment to follow.

I had just lost my nan to cancer in August 2020, so I was really worried about how my mum would cope with my diagnosis. I was also worried about treatment, how I was going to look after my daughter, and how I was going to provide for my family.

Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma. Fortunately, there was no cancer found in my bone, which meant the haematology team were confident they could effectively treat the cancer.

Now, I’m four months into a six-month chemotherapy course

I’ve now got the blood cancer symptoms you would ordinarily look for – the swelling, lumps, and pain.

Jemma, a woman in her 30s, takes a selfie against a wall.

I, along with the healthcare professionals, put many of my symptoms down to the side effects of being pregnant or the trauma of giving birth for far too long.

So, all I can say is, trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.

No one can know what’s going on in your body better than you do. Ask questions and challenge your healthcare professional if you disagree. You can always request a second opinion, especially if you start feeling worse.

And one last, but important thing, ask for a blood test!

If you're worried about or have questions about blood cancer, the impact of coronavirus, or would like to talk through how you're feeling, please don't hesitate to contact our free and confidential Support Services Team.

A publication cover titled "Your blood cancer diagnosis: What happens now?", with an image of hands being held supportively in close up.

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