Learning about Leukemia
- Lynsey Gregory dealt with a variety of symptoms before her acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis including a cough, night sweats and red dots on her legs. But it was until she developed a persistent bruise, she originally thought was a sports injury, that she started treading down the path to answers.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that can present seemingly benign symptoms, including fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), and excessive sweating. These symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia, but you should always see your doctor if you have any changes to your health.
- The word “acute” in acute lymphoblastic leukemia comes from the fact that the disease progresses rapidly and creates immature blood cells, rather than mature ones. The word “lymphocytic” refers to the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which ALL affects.
- The risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
The 38-year-old mother of two was playing netball – a game similar to basketball – when some of the first tangible signs of her leukemia arrived.Read More
Thankfully, Gregory decided to mention the bruising to her doctor during a routine appointment for her eldest child, Theo.
“[My mother] said I should mention the bruising because it had still not gone after a week,” she explained.
While awaiting results after the doctor sent her for blood tests, Gregory received a call in the middle of the night telling her to immediately come for a blood transfusion. As doctors tried to figure out what was wrong, they asked her a series of questions to try to gauge her symptoms.
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“When I was being asked questions like if I had a cold, recent cough or night sweats, I kept excusing it,” she said. “I said my little boy probably brought a cough into the house from nursery and I’d been having hot sweats because I had to leave the heating on at night because of the baby.
“I was making up all kinds of excuses when probably they were big signs to look out for. There were lots of things really that were actually signs.”
A follow-up bone marrow test confirmed her diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“They wanted to reassure me that I was going to be well looked after and the chemotherapy would take a month. I’d never been away from the children for that long before,” Gregory said of her reaction to the news. “I thought, ‘Who’s going to choose their clothes? Who’s going to get them to the toddler and baby groups we had booked?’
“I went into complete shock. Even though I have a wonderful husband, a wonderful mum, wonderful everybody – it’s not the same as me being there.”
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Gregory had four rounds of chemotherapy, multiple blood transfusions and a stem cell transplant for treatment. Fast forward 100 days later, and more blood tests revealed that her cancer was gone.
But during her time in the hospital, regularly tried to communicate with her son Theo, now 7, to help him grasp why she was away. Gregory has since used that experience to create Mummy Goes To Hospital – “the reassuring story of three-year-old Theo and baby Tillie, and how they deal with their Mummy getting sick and going into hospital for cancer treatment.” It is her hope the children’s book can help other families dealing with health issues.
“Real-life Star Mum, Lynsey, created this story with her son Theo to help children and families dealing with similar challenges,” the book’s summary reads. “Although written about Lynsey’s personal diagnosis, the experiences and emotions shared in this book resonate for any family affected by serious illness and regular hospital visits. The illustrations are bright and colourful, and the story (told from Theo’s point of view) is easy to understand and relatable for young children.”
Know the Signs of Leukemia
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including, red blood cells and platelets.
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“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the type of leukemia, and can present as seemingly benign. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
These signs and symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia, but if you notice them or any other changes to your health, you should see a doctor promptly.
Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia. And the word “acute” in acute lymphoblastic leukemia comes from the fact that the disease progresses rapidly and creates immature blood cells, rather than mature ones. The word “lymphocytic” refers to the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which ALL affects.
The American Cancer Society reports that the risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
What Is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)?
Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously talked with SurvivorNet about ALL’s effect on the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole 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.”
All About Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Answers to the Most Common Questions About the Disease
Dr. Oluwole also says the leukemia often resides in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he told SurvivorNet. “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.”
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