- A 28-year-old woman was prescribed antibiotics for ‘tonsillitis,’ after noticing she had swollen glands, bruises across her body, and was experiencing shortness of breath. When the medicine didn’t help and her symptoms worsened, she was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic 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.
- Blood cancer means that your bone marrow isn’t functioning properly.
- Importantly, September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month
Rhianna McKenna, now 28, initially thought she needed rest after when her symptoms arose, including dizziness and bruises found across her body. She decided to get checked after waiting a few days and still feeling the same. Soon enough, the mom-of-one was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.Read More
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Rhianna recounted the shock she felt after being told the news and having to call her partner and parents to inform them of her diagnosis. She was then taken to the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London to receive immediate treatment to reduce her white blood cell count, otherwise, she would only have days to live.
“Day by day my white cell count began to drop and eventually I came off the ventilator and that was the start of my recovery journey. I was moved to Guy’s Cancer Centre, where I spent four weeks,” she continued. Rhianna was given an anti-cancer chemotherapy drug called ATRA and had frequent blood or platelet transfusions.
Undergoing treatment wasn’t easy for Rhianna as the first two weeks her mouth was “covered in ulcers and sores” and her hair began to fall out. She eventually needed assistance when using the toilet, washing, getting dressed, and eating. Rhianna, who ultimately decided to have her hair shaved, explained, “My eyesight was still bad—I was told I had clotting and hemorrhages behind my eyes from the leukemia. Of course, because of COVID-19, I wasn’t allowed any visitors for those five weeks. However, the hospital allowed me to see my partner for half an hour one day and my mom for half an hour another day.”
When Rhianna was discharged from the hospital, she still had to undergo chemo two times a week as an outpatient. Once her first consolidation cycle was completed, she had a bone marrow biopsy. “I was so nervous and worried about having this, but I knew I needed to have it to find out if the leukemia was still in my blood. Then it was such a long wait for the results, it felt like forever,” she said
“I started cycle two, five days as an inpatient having arsenic every day for five days. My body really struggled with it; I was having a lot more side effects this time around. I had headaches, sickness, extreme exhaustion, joint aches. But I managed it!”
Rhianna, who suffered permanent damage in her eyes, said everything was “worth it” because the bone marrow biopsy revealed she no longer had any visual signs of leukemia. She continued, “I feel more and more positive every day and I’m slowly getting back to some sort of normality. The NHS have been amazing; they saved my life and I will be forever grateful. We are so lucky to have such an amazing health service. My family, partner and friends have been my support system who have made this journey so far a little easier.”
The cancer survivor said she finished all of her cancer treatment 19 months ago, married her partner Aidan in September 2021, learned they were pregnant in November 2021, and gave birth to their daughter in July 2022, according to KentLive.
Rihanna hopes her story can help others avoid ignoring symptoms because “everybody knows their own body best and if they feel something is not right, they should get it checked out straight away.”
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 the University of California San Francisco, previously told SurvivorNet.
In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow isn’t functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” Dr. Shah said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
What is a Blood Cancer? How is it Different?
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 aren’t exclusive to leukemia, but if you notice them or any other changes to your health, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Understanding The Different Types of Leukemia
Leukemia is different from other types of cancer because it is not just broken down into stages of severity, but into different categories based on the cells that grow into cancer cells and how quickly those cells grew. In this blood cancer, one type of white blood cells is growing out of proportion to the others, and taking up the body’s resources. A patient’s bone marrow will become filled with these blood cancer cells, and that could result in anemia, abnormally low levels of platelets and white blood cells failing to fight off infections.
There are four basic categories doctors use to identify the different types of this blood cancer:
- Acute leukemia grows very quickly.
- Chronic leukemia grows more slowly, over several years.
- Lymphoid leukemia grows from lymphoid cells, which produce antibodies and protect against viruses.
- Myeloid leukemia grows from myeloid cells, which is the body’s first defense for bacteria.
What Are The Different Types of Leukemia
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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