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‘I was in so much pain that I just wanted it to stop.’
Over a decade since Sarah Campling was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) she has shared her emotional and inspiring story with us to mark Know AML World Awareness Day 2018. In her own words, this is Sarah’s story:
In October 2006 we had just returned from a family holiday with our two daughters, one aged two and our youngest just eight months old so life was very hectic. I put my extreme tiredness down to that plus I had developed a nasty chest infection with a cough that would keep me awake at night.
Between October and March 2007 I must have visited the GP around five times and was given antibiotics. Nothing seemed to make me feel better I then started to get migraines and would have to go and lay down in the middle of the day, not easy when you have a baby and a toddler! They were such good girls though and would just come and lay with me, it was almost like they understood.
After months of feeling unwell and weak I was getting so fed up. I kept asking my doctor to send me for further tests but I would be sent away with yet another course of antibiotics.
One morning though, that all changed. I was in the shower and felt a lump in my breast I remember feeling panicked and just knew that something was wrong.
After a mammogram and a biopsy after five months of feeling ill I finally got my diagnosis I had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). On Friday 13th April! Unlucky for some I suppose.
The doctor wanted me to go the hospital straight away but I begged him to let me stay home for the weekend with my girls and also to sort out arrangements.
By the time I reached St Bart’s Hospital in London on the Monday my stomach had swollen to the extent that I looked like I was pregnant and the roof of my mouth was starting to collapse. I had ten doctors around my bed at which point I realised how serious this was. The lump in my breast and stomach was very rare so they had to do more tests before I could start treatment. The doctors had to rule out a secondary cancer so we had a few days of anxious waiting, but when the Doctors told me I had AML I actually remember feeling relieved!
All the staff at St Bart’s made me feel so safe. I trusted them with my life and knew that they would do whatever they could to save me. They even allowed my husband to sleep next to me on a camp bed in my room.
When my hair started to fall out one of the nurses shaved it off for me whilst we watched Coronation Street. I was laughing until I looked in the mirror, what I saw starting back at me was a cancer patient. It was strange because until that moment I still didn’t feel like I had cancer. I soon came to terms with it and put my bandana on, losing your hair kind of pails into insignificance when you are fighting for your life.
I maintained a routine as much as I could, I would get up and always get dressed and go for a walk even if it was just around the hospital corridors. I would get outside as much as possible and if I felt able to would walk over the road to St Paul’s Cathedral and go for a coffee somewhere. I remember one of the nurses calling me on my mobile to find out where I was because my blood results had come back and my platelets were dangerously low. She said: ‘please don’t fall over Sarah and get yourself back here sharpish as you need a blood and platelet transfusion!’ I suppose I was a bit of a rebel but I just needed to get out and see life.
I had four cycles of chemotherapy and also six cycles of intrathecal chemotherapy (this is where they inject the chemo into your spine) because I had the mass in my breast and stomach they were worried the leukaemia might have spread to my central nervous system.
The first two rounds of chemotherapy went well and I was allowed home for a few days in between cycles. When I was at home I was still so drained but nothing beats being able to sleep in your own bed and to eat some home-cooked food. I had lost over two stone in weight so it was good being able to eat whatever I liked.
My fourth and final cycle of chemotherapy proved to be my biggest challenge and I was left fighting for my life after contracting sepsis. I remember feeling quite annoyed that my family and I had been through so much in the last four months and that it was all going to be for nothing. There was one night in particular when they were trying to put another cannula in my arm and it must have taken about ten attempts because my veins had collapsed. I was just so tired and in so much pain that I just wanted it to stop but the nurses were so brilliant, sitting with me and talking about my children and all the things that I was going to do once I was better. They really are angels and I can’t thank them enough for all what they did for me.
I made two great friends in hospital called Lin and Karen, they both had AML like me, and we really did have so much fun together despite our circumstances helping each other when we were having our low moments. I hope they both know how much they meant to me and I felt so blessed to have had them in my life albeit for a short time. They both passed away within four months of each other and that is something that I still struggle with even to this day. I do my best to live my life to the full not only for my family and me but for Lin and Karen too.
So after being in hospital for almost five months it was time to go home. Before this day came I would think to myself how happy I would be and that I would be running for the door but I felt scared and vulnerable, you feel so safe at St Bart’s.
Life bought us another surprise two years after I finished treatment, but this time it was a good one.
I discovered I was pregnant with our third child. This came as a huge shock after being told I would be infertile.
Stuart and I welcomed Isabella Skye Hope into the world in July 2009. Her middle name Hope was inspired from my time when I was fighting AML.
Love, Strength and Hope is all you need.
Almost 11 years on and I am so lucky to say I am still in remission and continue to have yearly check ups at St Bart’s. I will never forget all what they did for me and charities like Cure Leukaemia, I owe you my life, it’s as simple as that.
When Jaqueline first noticed that her skin was starting to become pale back in July 2021, she initially just put it down to age and didn't think anything more of it.