28 Apr 2023

Just in the ‘nick of time’: how a blood test detected Paul’s hairy cell leukaemia

Almost two years of vague symptoms and repeated visits to the GP ended with Paul Street finally being diagnosed with leukaemia.

Paul, who lives near Maidstone in Kent, was 42 when he was told he had blood cancer in 2007. As Director and owner of the Weald Kent Golf Course and several golf-related businesses, Paul had always been super-fit and active. But he started to notice he just didn’t feel his normal energetic self.

“It started in 2006 with me visiting my GP on four separate occasions to inform her that I felt unwell,” said Paul. “I couldn’t really put a finer point on it, just that I felt unwell. Initially my GP thought I might be suffering from stress (who isn’t these days!) so other than some advice on that topic no further tests were carried out. What made me realise I was really ill was the Christmas and New Year period. I couldn’t finish a glass of wine – decent wine at that – so I knew it was serious!”

Paul returned to the GP in January 2007 and insisted on a blood test. The following day the GP contacted him to say his iron levels were seriously low. He was immediately referred to a consultant who diagnosed him with rare hairy cell leukaemia.

“I didn’t realise at the time but I was lucky – despite being so rare, hairy cell is one of the forms of blood cancer that research has made huge advances in,” said Paul. “I had quite a bit of knowledge of leukaemia as my Grandfather sadly died from it in 1977 when I was a teenager. So I immediately knew that the treatment was not going to be much fun.”

Treatment started just a few days after the diagnosis as Paul’s blood results were so poor it was considered urgent. He was given a mix of chemotherapy and the drug Rituximab both at Somerfield Hospital Maidstone and by Specialist Nurses at his home.

“It was certainly gruelling,” said Paul, who was supported throughout his treatment by his wife Susan and children Claire and Robert who were just teenagers when he was diagnosed. “Within days the chemo had started to do its thing, and I was almost totally bed-ridden. I experienced the usual complications of infections, high temperatures, nausea, and all manner of other side effects from the concoction of drugs I ingested daily. Indeed, I remember ‘enjoying’ my 43rd Birthday in hospital hooked up to a bag of chemo for the day! Over the next few weeks and months I had a few scary moments where I required urgent hospitalisation for various complications and some of those stays in hospital were, I have to say, my darkest moments.

“I now believe that one of the main issues with any form of serious illness is the psychological effect it has upon you. We all like to think we are invincible and to a degree take life for granted – so it’s times like these that shake you to your core. As a husband and father you always like to feel that you are the strong one who can handle everything for your family. Yet there you are….. weak and feeble, feeling vulnerable. It also places a great strain on your closest family members, as they are the ones who are fit enough to worry and have all the running around and nursing to do when you are at home for extended periods.”

Paul’s drug treatment, which at the time was still in the early stages of being developed, was a swift success. After a couple of months rest he had a second course of treatment, which his body tolerated far better. Incredibly he was in full remission only five months after diagnosis.

Since then Paul has spectacularly returned to peak fitness, completing six London to Paris cycling challenges, 10 triathlons and five marathons as well as numerous other sporting events. Paul ran the London Marathon again in April 2023.

“Whilst I know you are not supposed to say you are cured I actually believe I am,” said Paul. “I have my blood checked and consult with my Specialist every four months and shall continue to do that forever. In the event of my leukeamia returning the intention is that we will have caught it early and treatment will be effective once again.

“Looking back and knowing what I now know about many of the 137 forms of blood cancer I realise that I was fortunate to be diagnosed with such a treatable form of the disease. Research is vital to benefit everyone who’s diagnosed with blood cancer, so they can benefit in the way I did.

“I would also say to everyone that ‘you know your own body’. If you feel ill for a long period of time yet you still manage to function fully on a daily basis, be insistent that your GP runs some tests. Mine did eventually and it was literally just in the ‘nick of time’.”

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of leukaemia.

Want to read more about others who have been diagnosed with hairy cell leukaemia? Read Phil’s story about his diagnosis.

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