Story Written In 2014

It was one year ago today that Katherine Sinfield heard the life-altering words: “You have leukae­mia.”

As the 33-year-old continues to recov­er from a stem cell transplant and cher­ishes the news that she is now in remis­sion, she looks back on what she describes as “12 months of hell”.

Katherine, of Balfour Street, Burton, said: “I had been suffering from extremely bad headaches for a while, coupled with chronic fatigue and pain­ful stomach cramps, but it was always put down to the fact that I was a busy teacher working long hours and was thought to be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

“A couple of weeks before my diagno­sis I started to suffer from bad cramp in my legs and we had to abort a day trip to Skegness after I struggled to walk more than 10 yards along the seafront.

“However, I continued to go to work the following week, although driving was now becoming a problem as I struggled to press the pedals without experiencing agonising pain. We knew that I needed to see a doctor as my leg was starting to swell, but we avoided visiting A&E over the weekend because I didn’t want to be labelled a time-waster along with the typical weekend drunks and pub brawlers.

“So off we went bright and early on Monday morning to an empty A&E department at Queen’s Hospital in Burton. I was waiting in the assessment area having just had an ECG on my heart when a consultant, along with a nurse, broke the news that I had leukaemia – chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) to be precise.

“I haven’t revealed this before, but the reality is that if I hadn’t have walked into A&E on Monday, April 15, 2013, I would probably have been dead within a month as the disease was so advanced.

“My CML was starting to mutate into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).”

After 11 days at Queen’s, things looked as though they had turned a corner as Katherine was placed on the wonder drug Imatinib (Glivec), which keeps white blood cells under control and makes the condition manageable.

Some people can remain on Imatinib for years and can resume their normal day-to-day life.

This was the case for Katherine until mid-June when her cell count started to rise again – her figures were jumping upwards by the dozen as each day passed and, by June 19, she was admitted back to the hospital.

The next few months were spent undergoing intensive chemotherapy at one of the world’s ‘cen­tres of excellence’ for leukaemia – the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham – this culminated in a stem cell transplant in late October.

Katherine said: “Since April 15 last year, I have spent 105 days in the hospital undergoing some of the most demand­ing treatments you can face. I’ve had eight painful bone marrow biopsies, half a dozen CT scans, an MRI scan, a couple of ECGs, a bronchoscopy, a liver biopsy, dozens of X-rays, litres and litres of chemotherapy, four days of total body irradiation and close to 20 blood and platelet transfusions.

“I’m now in remission but there isn’t a magic switch which turns everything back to normal. Life is still tough – I have very low immunity, making me prone to anything and everything. I have low energy levels, I suffer from nau­sea, dry skin, occasional cramps and I’m very sensitive to the sun. I can’t eat anything containing grapefruit or Seville oranges and the occasional meal out has to be vetted to make sure the venue has a five-star hygiene rating.

“I can venture to the supermarket with assistance, but this has to be at ridiculous times to avoid the crowds. I’m still taking a handful of tablets each day, which in turn have their own side-effects.

“Going abroad is also out of the question until maybe next year and I still have to visit Birmingham most weeks for either routine clinic appointments or various tests. Being in remission doesn’t mean I am back to normal – it is just the start of a very long road to health.”

In January 2014 Katherine received a very unique prize after winning 20 special boards following the ‘Support Stan’ Campaign in aid of Cure Leukaemia…