Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
- Beth Reilly, 23, tried to get answers for her baby boy’s bruises and flu-like symptoms from doctors six times before his acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or acute lymphocytic leukemia, is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow.
- It’s very aggressive, and people with ALL often don’t get a diagnosis until after the disease has spread throughout the body.
- One of our experts says younger patients with ALL are likely to be cured of the disease with treatment.
Beth Reilly, 23, knew something wasn’t right with Bailey before she first took him to the doctor. He was still a seemingly happy child, but his flu-like symptoms and many bruises that wouldn’t heal after three weeks convinced her there was something seriously wrong.Read More
“Because I had no explanation for the bruises, when I was eventually referred to the hospital, I was questioned about it over and over by two nurses and a consultant together,” she said. “It upset me, but I understood that they just needed to do it.”
While she knew the doctors were doing their due-dilligence, Beth also knew there was more to her son’s story.
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Beth says doctors told her there was nothing wrong with her son six times and kept pushing for answers. Just hours after convincing doctors to perform a blood test, the mother finally learned her son had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Now, he could get the proper help he needed.
“Bailey is still very happy, but it’s just tough on him – and you can see that. We’re still a bit in denial that he’s actually ill and it’s already been months,” she said. “He’s definitely been knocked a bit, he’s exhausted. He struggles to eat, so he’s now fed mostly through a feeding tube – it’s just not the normality we’re used to.”
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Bailey, now 16 months old, has already undergone a bone marrow biopsy and three rounds of chemotherapy. He also has a spinal lumbar puncture every two weeks. It’s unclear how Bailey’s treatments will affect his life going forward, but he will need to have heart scans for the rest of his life.
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“We’ve all found it tough because he was our first baby, and we were so excited about that,” Beth explained. “All of his young years that he should be spending having fun and being a child, he’s now going to be going through treatment instead.
“It’s sad because he had just joined nursery, and he loved it – but I’ve had to take him out now.”
Now, Beth wants to remind other parents they need to push for answers when they know something is wrong with their children.
“If you’re worried, you need to press them to get tests done,” she said. “I still often think back to the experience and it was horrible to be questioned about abusing your own child – but I know that they needed to do it.”
If you want to learn more about the family story, visit their GoFundMe page.
What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or acute lymphocytic leukemia, is a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. People often reference this cancer as ALL, for short.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick.
“And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)?
People with ALL often come to Dr. Oluwole with fever or infections because the bone marrow has “failed in its ability to make other types of blood cells.” And, oftentimes, patients won’t actually get a diagnosis until the disease has already spread throughout their body.
Reilly was right in her immense concern for her son. She had recognized some telltale signs of leukemia in her baby. Common symptoms of ALL, according to the American Cancer Society, include:
- Feeling tired
- Feeling weak
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Infections that don’t go away or keep coming back
- Bruises (or small red or purple spots) on the skin
- Bleeding, such as frequent or severe nosebleeds, bleeding gums, or heavy menstrual bleeding in women
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” Dr. Oluwole said. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So, those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
All About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Answers to the Most Common Questions About the Disease
Despite this cancer’s fast-growing nature, it’s important to know that young patients with the disease will likely be cured. Older patients less likely to be cured, but Dr. Oluwole says treatment can still prolong life in a meaningful way.
“Most young patients are able to be cured of ALL, however, most older patients are unable to be cured,” he said. “If I’m speaking to someone who is in the pediatric age group or maybe a young adult, I can tell them right off the bat that our aim will be to cure you of this disease using chemotherapy alone. If we see that that doesn’t work, we will have another chance by getting you to a stem cell transplant.”
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