Candid With Cancer #8 – My Second Cancer Diagnosis
Thomas Ashley details his battle against AML as part of a new weekly blog
Jenna Ostrowski, now 34, would have died from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (“AML”) if she had not privately tested her blood back in July 2017. The Corporate Solicitor at KPMG had attended numerous appointments with her local GP, but they failed to identify the potential severity of her symptoms.
Knowing something was wrong, Jenna insisted on having a blood test but the next appointment available was over two weeks away and was also subsequently cancelled when the date came around due to the nurse at the Surgery being off sick. At that point, if she had not used the private healthcare support of her employer to test her blood, she almost certainly would be dead.
On July 7th 2017, the results of the private blood test revealed that Jenna had leukaemia, subsequently diagnosed as AML, an aggressive form of blood cancer, and within hours she was receiving treatment first at BMI The Priory Hospital, Edgbaston and then on Ward 625 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
Jenna then endured 7 months of gruelling chemotherapy to combat the disease.
Now, just over a year on, Jenna is in remission (although will still undergo painful bone marrow biopsies every three months for the next three years in order to monitor her blood, given the high risk of relapse) and training to cycle a 500km bike ride alongside former England, Crystal Palace and Wolves footballer and fellow blood cancer survivor Geoff Thomas.
Cure Leukaemia’s closed-road London 2 Paris ride starts on September 20th, in Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and Jenna wants to raise funds, inspire others and raise vital awareness of blood cancer after her experiences.
The Coventry City fan who lives with her boyfriend Matt Greenaway in Birmingham said: “There is no doubt that I would be dead if I had not had that blood test done privately which is both terrifying and unfair in equal measure. It simply cannot be right that the only reason I am here now is thanks to the private healthcare I receive through my employer and that is why I am determined to help raise awareness.”
“I have seen this in the news a lot recently, tragically with Simon Thomas’ wife and also a young lady also from the Midlands with a scarily similar story to mine. I don’t think this is purely coincidence, so we must stop this happening.
The problem is that blood cancer symptoms don’t manifest themselves as obviously as other cancers. In my case it was significant bruises, very bad headaches, night sweats, recurrent infections, specifically a gum infection and swollen glands.
Whilst my Dentist had raised the alarm and was very worried given that I wasn’t a typical patient to have a gum infection and because I had swollen glands in my jaw and throat, unfortunately, my GP simply didn’t spot the signs or share my concerns, but I knew something was wrong and so persisted that I needed a blood test, which I had to have privately due to the long wait through my GP.”
“It terrifies me to think how many other patients are out there in a similar position to me right now who don’t have the means to seek private healthcare and that is why I am so keen to share my story in the hope that the symptoms of blood cancer are more widely known and hopefully help patients access treatment sooner.”
Jenna, who originally hails from Kent, lost her uncle to blood cancer eight years ago and, just prior to her diagnosis, attended a talk at KPMG from Cure Leukaemia’s CEO James McLaughlin.
She recalls: “Our office at KPMG had raised some funds for Cure Leukaemia so James came to inform us how those funds were going to be used. Hearing him speak I was already feeling emotional because I’d lost my uncle to blood cancer who I loved very much, but, unknowingly at the time, I was actually standing in that room riddled with blood cancer myself.”
“The charity Cure Leukaemia has been with me right from the start and the support they have given me and Matt has been a massive boost.
I was proud to not only help them secure an additional £1m in 2017 to expand the globally significant Centre for Clinical Haematology in Birmingham, but also secure the national two-year support of Deutsche Bank as one of its UK Charities of the Year.”
“This charity is growing fast and has real momentum and when I hear clinicians like Professor Charlie Craddock CBE and Professor Paresh Vyas discussing how blood cancer will be treated in the future and that effective treatments for all blood cancers are just years away, I feel compelled to do everything I can to help.”
“My extended network of friends and family have raised over £17,000 for Cure Leukaemia since my diagnosis just over a year ago which is fantastic but it has all been in my name and not by me personally. I would like to do something myself now to show my appreciation and support and that’s why I’m riding London 2 Paris with Matt, my absolute rock.”
“I am certainly not a natural athlete and by no means a cyclist, the sport is completely new to me, but I am determined to complete the 500km ride and raise as much money as I can for the charity and in order to help save lives. My physio said I shouldn’t do it and I don’t think my team of doctors who I see regularly are too happy about it, but my gut says I should and my gut feeling kept me alive a year ago.”
“Having Geoff Thomas on the ride will certainly help as well. As a blood cancer survivor himself he has completed remarkable feats of endurance on the bike despite the gruelling treatment he endured 15 years ago and that certainly inspires me.”
Geoff Thomas, who will lead the cyclists from London 2 Paris on September 20th and is also planning to ride the full Tour de France route again, one day ahead of the professionals in 2019 said:
“Jenna’s story is not uncommon, and we have seen that so sadly with Simon Thomas’ wife and others in recent times. Jenna was lucky, but it should not be down to luck and I’m so delighted she is riding London 2 Paris to raise funds and awareness to take luck out of the equation for others.”
“We have another patient, Mark Nicholas, who had a stem cell transplant under a year ago taking part as well. These people are true inspirations and deserve all the recognition that will hopefully come their way. I know myself that to cycle this distance so soon after treatment that ravages your body is remarkable.
I hope that the public recognises what these brave people are taking on and help them raise as much money as possible for this wonderful and growing charity.”