Advocating for Your Health
- Gareth Dixon, 40, was diagnosed with leukemia after insisting that blood tests be taken during a trip to the emergency room after suffering from chest, hip and rib cage pain. Prior to that trip, he had tried to make an in-person doctors appointment because he was dealing with fatigue, thirst, aches and pains.
- His persistence was reportedly key in getting to a correct diagnosis sooner.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but general symptoms for the disease include: Fever or chills, persistent fatigue, weakness, frequent or severe infections, losing weight without trying, swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged liver or spleen, easy bleeding or bruising, recurrent nosebleeds, tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae), excessive sweating as well as bone pain or tenderness.
- Being your own advocate can be key to coming to a correct cancer diagnosis and obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a diagnosis.
The 40-year-old father of two told Cheshire Live he was suffering from fatigue, thirst, aches and pains when he tried to see a doctor. Reportedly unable to make a face-to-face appointment, Dixon was told to go for blood tests several days later.Read More
“I just refused to go anywhere until they had given me a blood test,” Dixon said. “They basically told me there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t going to sit there for hours to be told nothing was wrong.”
Thankfully, blood tests were taken, and Dixon received the diagnosis he needed the following morning: plasma cell leukemia.
“I had gone in thinking I was either diabetic, as everyone in my family is, or that it was prostate cancer with the symptoms that I had,” he explained. “So I sort of had that mindset – but it was a shock for it to be leukemia.”
Dixon began chemotherapy treatment just days later and has since said his care has been “amazing.” He will also undergo a stem cell transplant as a part of treatment which requires that he go into isolation for a month before receiving intense chemotherapy that can kill his cancer cells before the stem cells are reintroduced into his body. The goal of the stem cell transplant is to put him in remission for a few months so he can make memories with his wife and two sons, Lewis, 12, and Dom, 19.
“The last week or so I was ready for giving up. I felt that bad,” he said in an update. “The drugs I was on so they could harvest the stem cells made me feel really ill.
“I feel a lot better in myself now. I still need to nap every day, but I am feeling better. It was almost instant after I had the procedure done.”
Despite having an uncertain future ahead, Dixon is determined to focus on the positive. He’s made a bucket list of things he wants to do and started to tick off the experiences as treatment continues. One of his biggest dreams is to visit Maine and take a Stephen King tour try some fresh Maine lobster.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the States,” he said. “I would just love to go at Halloween because they’re really into it there.”
If you’d like to donate to help Dixon make memories and check off his bucket list, visit his GoFundMe page.
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.
“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. 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 your doctor promptly.
Advocating for Your Health
As we’ve seen in the case of Gareth Dixon, it’s always important to pay attention to the changes happening to your body and insist that medical professionals investigate.
You have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer, other avenues for treatment or the potential of a different diagnosis. And if you simply don’t know what’s causing a change to your body, you should still seek professional help. You never know when speaking up about a seemingly unimportant issue can lead to a very important diagnosis – cancer or otherwise.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
Another thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.