04 Apr 2023

I thought I knew the signs of blood cancer: Sharon’s story

Sharon Sinclair thought she knew the signs of blood cancer – tragically her father had died of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) when she was 17 and he was just 41 and she remembered him having lots of bruises. But Sharon didn’t realise that when she began to feel fatigued and breathless, she also had the disease.

“From late October 2018 I’d been tired and kept getting colds,” said Sharon, who lives in Bromley, London and is retired from work as a teaching assistant. “By end of November, I had blood tests which showed a low B12 count, so was given a B12 injection and sent on my way. I went back to my doctor mid-December and had another blood test, then just before Christmas I received an appointment for the haematology department at Kings Hospital in London for April 2019. Again I just struggled on, getting breathless and feeling wiped out. In the end I went back to my GP – it was January 3rd 2019. He said I should have been fast-tracked and sent me straight to my local hospital, where I was immediately admitted. I had a bone marrow test done the following morning and within two hours was told I had acute myeloid leukaemia. It was a huge shock. I lost my Dad to AML, and it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I had leukaemia as I had no bruises.”

Sharon, who was 54 when she was diagnosed, began chemotherapy immediately. She was given a less than a 40% success rate as she had an aggressive form of the disease, and was told she would definitely need a bone marrow transplant.

“It brought back memories of my lovely dad, who had blood tests on the Monday, went into the Royal Marsden on the Tuesday and died the next day, while I was waiting to go in and see him,” said Sharon. “My poor mum was beside herself that I’d got AML as well. Having to tell my husband John, who I’ve been married to for 33 years, and my two sons Johnny and Luke, was awful. It broke my heart seeing the fear in their eyes, and how it aged my mum.

“I had to spend five weeks in the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough, in my own little room, with only close family allowed to visit due to the risk of infection. I coped well with the chemotherapy. In fact the most painful thing was the haemorrhoids – I never knew they were a side effect of chemotherapy! I shaved my own head when my hair started to fall out. My husband brought his clippers in, and he had a few tears, but I was fine, it was my hair, and I was going to control when I went bald. I was also happy when it started to fall out, as in my mind it meant the chemotherapy was doing its job.”

Sharon went into remission after her first round to chemotherapy and a drug called Rydapt. None of her three siblings was a bone marrow donor match, but a 10/10 match was found in Germany and after another round of chemo she went to Kings College Hospital for a stem cell transplant.

“Three weeks after my transplant I went home, but then unfortunately, I got the virus CMV. I went back to Kings for nearly five weeks, which was really hard – it’s the only time I got low and cried, I just wanted to go home. I also had to have a top up of donor cells in the August. But in December 2019 I had the wonderful news that I was finally 100% donor cells – it was the best ever Christmas present.”

Sharon has always been active, running her first marathon at the age of 50 and going to the gym. She gradually rebuilt her strength and is running the London Marathon in April 2023.

“I’m so thankful to be here and for all the support from the NHS staff and my amazing family and friends, every day is a blessing,” said Sharon. “I am a Christian and my faith definitely gave me strength, especially when I was alone and in my low moments. I used to be a real stress-head, always rushing around, never taking time for me, worrying about almost everything. Now I’m more relaxed, have learnt to slow down and enjoy life so much more. There have been many positives that came out of my illness, and I’m grateful for that. I feel I’m a better and stronger person for it. Life is a precious gift, one I’ll never take for granted again. I’ve not really got a ‘bucket list’, I’m happy with my life, just to be here, although, I’d love to go Iceland someday and see the northern lights.

“I’m also so much better informed now about leukaemia. There are so many different symptoms and it’s far too easily overlooked. It’s important for everyone to know some of the symptoms and push for tests.”

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of leukaemia.

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