Leukaemia symptoms – or just “old age”?

Colin Harper had been feeling a little tired before diagnosis, but put that down to his age. It was only when he noticed blood in his eye that he became concerned. Read on to find out how Colin’s quick-thinking saved his life.

I was a tennis coach for many years and still played five times a week. I regarded myself as fit and had a healthy life style; my weight was as it should be, and I didn’t smoke. I turned 70 in December last year and I must admit I suddenly began to feel the effects of a long rally on the tennis court. I thought, ‘Wow – is this what happens when you reach 70!’.

I thought nothing more of it, then in January this year, I woke one morning with what appeared to be a small patch of blood in my eye. I then made what turned out to be the wisest decision of my life. I went straight to an optician to be examined. She advised me to get a blood check and the result went straight to my GP – I was dangerously anaemic. I was admitted that night to the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh and spent the next few days getting blood transfusions and undergoing tests. By the end of the week, the diagnosis was confirmed – I had a rare blood cancer called hairy cell leukaemia (HCL).

Within three days, I started a five-day course of chemotherapy at the Western General Hospital. Well, the chemotherapy seemed to do the trick and my blood levels shot up, although I had a 10-day period in ‘solitary’ for fear of infection. Can I say at this point, that the treatment received from the NHS was first class from start to finish. As I write this, in August of the same year, I feel fit and well.

Hairy Cell Leukaemia is incurable, which is scary of course, but highly treatable; in other words, I can live with it!

Spot Leukaemia is so important. I found a ‘spot’ in my eye and acted upon it. That is the vital thing – don’t wait to see if it will go away. Also recognise that leukaemia can happen to anyone, even fit and healthy people.

Swift action altered the outcome for Colin, but if you feel unable to take action on your own, then make the first call to an independent advocate. Well done Colin!

And thank you to Leukaemia Care for sharing this wonderful story.