A woman who brushed off her headaches and exhaustion as divorce stress was horrified to hear she was just 48 hours away from dying from leukaemia.
So urgent was Kate Stallard’s case that she didn’t even have time to freeze her eggs before she began treatment that would leave her infertile – meaning she gave up her chance of motherhood.
The 32-year-old, from Worcestershire, had split from her partner of 10 years just eight months before she was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night.
She had been suffering from headaches and exhaustion, which she put down to divorce stress as she tried to adjust to her new life as a singleton.
"It was a really stressful time, and very difficult to try and survive it all," Kate said.
In the hope of lifting her spirits, Kate started going to the gym more often and began working out with weights after the divorce in 2016.
She also took comfort from the idea that time was on her side and, one day, she might have children.
“One of the things that helped get me through my divorce was that I’m still young, so there was time to meet someone else and start a family," she added.
But despite her best efforts, she still felt constantly exhausted, even having to pause multiple times for a rest when taking her dogs for a short walk.
After putting it down to the emotional toll of the divorce, Kate suddenly deteriorated and she collapsed in her bathroom in the middle of the night.
From a 1am doctors appointment, she went to the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, where tests revealed that she had acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), a rare type of blood cancer.
She said: “I’d been panicking, realising something was very wrong, but I still never thought it could be cancer. Being diagnosed was absolutely terrifying. My world fell apart.
“After the night I went to hospital, I didn’t leave for six weeks. Doctors told me if I hadn’t started treatment right away, I would have only had a couple of days left to live.”
In September 2016, just days before her diagnosis, Kate started her period, which was unusually heavy.
“It just wouldn’t stop. It was almost like a haemorrhage,” she added.
Beginning to panic – particularly after noticing more bruises in odd places she’d definitely have remembered knocking, like the backs of her hands – Kate went to see a doctor.
“I’d spoken with a relative who’d had aplastic anaemia, a rare bone marrow disease, so I thought it’d be something like that, or perhaps even a virus,” she said. “I assumed I’d go to the doctor and be sent off with some antibiotics.”
After being checked over, Kate asked if she could have a blood test, just to be sure.
However, as she was classed as a non-urgent case, she was told she’d need to wait a week for an appointment to become available.
But she didn’t make it that far, as two days later, she went rapidly downhill. Barely able to walk, she remembers crawling up the stairs to her bathroom, where she collapsed onto the floor.
Terrified she’d pass out with nobody to find her, she called 111, and they organised for her to have an emergency appointment in the middle of the night.
“I got there about 1am. They took one look at me and knew something was really wrong,” she said. “They examined all my bruises and took more bloods, which they sent off to be urgently tested.
“I went home to wait for the results, and around two hours later, my phone rang again with the doctor telling me I was seriously ill, and needed to get to A&E fast.”
Taken straight into isolation at Worcester Royal Hospital, she was given a blood transfusion whilst they ran further tests, including a bone marrow biopsy.
Then, a few hours later, doctors broke the news that she had leukaemia and sepsis , and had been just days from death.
As she required such urgent care, Kate was unable to go home, told instead to remain in hospital while doctors worked on her to ensure she was strong enough to begin chemotherapy in two days’ time.
Heartbreakingly, as she had always wanted children, this did not leave her enough time to freeze her eggs.
She explained: “I was told the type of chemotherapy drug I was to have can affect fertility. One of my first questions was, ‘Can I freeze my eggs?’
“But doctors told me that the process takes a few weeks, and I wouldn’t survive it. It was devastating.
"I held on to the hope that the chemotherapy may not do that much damage, but I have since gone for fertility tests and it wasn’t possible to harvest any eggs.
“That’s been one of the hardest parts, and most horrific side effects for me. I know adoption and so on is an option, and that I had to have the treatment to stay alive, but I still need to grieve.”
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For six weeks, Kate, who tragically lost her father to prostate cancer , so has seen first-hand the devastation the disease can cause, remained in hospital.
After three cycles of chemotherapy, she was told she was in remission. But then, her health declined again in February 2017.
“I was suffering with double vision, and my right eye began to turn in on itself,” she explained.
“It transpired the cancer had returned, and was in my central nervous system.”
This time Kate had 17 weeks of chemotherapy, where drugs were injected into her spinal fluid via a lumbar puncture, followed by a stem cell transplant.
She has stayed in remission since August 2017, and is closely monitored, undergoing scans every three months.
Kate is working closely with charity Leukaemia Care, supporting their Spot Leukaemia campaign to raise awareness of the signs of the disease via special symptoms cards, which can be ordered from their website and presented to doctors.
For information or to order a symptoms card, click here .
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